Monday, November 2, 2009

INN AND OUT: Liabilities of Hotels and Inns

By Obiter07

One checks in to hotels, on vacation or on a business trips or on some other less than legal reason. How safe are you and your belongings while you are there? There have been occasions where a guest returns to a room only to have items missing. You may not be aware of it, but there are specific provisions of law governing the liabilities of hotels.

Personal Effects

Under the New Civil Code, hotels are supposed to be responsible for all personal effects brought in by their guests. However, the guest should give notice of the effects, and take the precautions that may be advised:

“ARTICLE 1998. The deposit of effects made by travellers in hotels or inns shall also be regarded as necessary. The keepers of hotels or inns shall be responsible for them as depositaries[1], provided that notice was given to them, or to their employees, of the effects brought by the guests and that, on the part of the latter, they take the precautions which said hotel-keepers or their substitutes advised relative to the care and vigilance of their effects. (1783)”

There is no need for an actual “deposit” as the responsibility covers all effects brought into the hotel [Padilla, Civil Code Annotated, Vol. VI, (1987), p. 604 citing De los Santos vs. Tan Khey].

Apart from your personal effects, vehicles, articles and even animals are supposed to be kept safe. The lone ranger’s horse, if he’s a hotel guest, should be safe as well too. The law seems dated and looks back to a bygone era of horse-drawn carriages and buggies (or perhaps merely lifted from US law):

“ARTICLE 1999. The hotel-keeper is liable for the vehicles, animals and articles which have been introduced or placed in the annexes of the hotel. (n)”

The hotel’s responsibility extends to losses caused by its personnel and even by third parties but stops at force majeure.

“ARTICLE 2000. The responsibility referred to in the two preceding articles shall include the loss of, or injury to the personal property of the guests caused by the servants or employees of the keepers of hotels or inns as well as strangers; but not that which may proceed from any force majeure. The fact that travellers are constrained to rely on the vigilance of the keeper of the hotels or inns shall be considered in determining the degree of care required of him. (1784a)”

However, there is a distinction between a robber who uses force or who surreptitiously commits robbery. The former is to be deemed force majeure and the hotel is freed from liability.

“ARTICLE 2001. The act of a thief or robber, who has entered the hotel is not deemed force majeure, unless it is done with the use of arms or through an irresistible force. (n)”

But if the guest himself, his servants or his own visitors or the character of thing causes the loss, then the hotel has no liability.

“ARTICLE 2002. The hotel-keeper is not liable for compensation if the loss is due to the acts of the guest, his family, servants or visitors, or if the loss arises from the character of the things brought into the hotel. (n)”

And if some clever hotel owner posts notices that it is not responsible for losses or incorporates this in the agreement for your stay, this will not be effective.

“ARTICLE 2003. The hotel-keeper cannot free himself from responsibility by posting notices to the effect that he is not liable for the articles brought by the guest. Any stipulation between the hotel-keeper and the guest whereby the responsibility of the former as set forth in Articles 1998 to 2001 is suppressed or diminished shall be void. (n)”

But if you don’t pay your hotel bill, they can keep your things as security.

“ARTICLE 2004. The hotel-keeper has a right to retain the things brought into the hotel by the guest, as a security for credits on account of lodging, and supplies usually furnished to hotel guests. (n)”

It may be hard to imagine, but the necessity of having carpets at a hotel was the subject of an actual case. And the court ruled that the hotel can wax and polish floors without having to install rugs or carpets for the safety of guests while this is ongoing. It took notice that these are “luxurious innovations” that at the time were rarely, if ever used in Philippine houses and buildings [Ibid. p. 603-603 citing Evans vs. Manila Hotel Co., et al., 10 CAR (2s) 878.]. This may not hold true now.

Personal Safety and Security

With respect to your personal safety, what could be the rule? While the law covers effects, the person of the guest is not given similar express protection.

In a more recent case, a hotel has been made to answer for the harm that befell its guest. Court of Appeals held the hotel is responsible for the murder of a guest in his hotel room, on the finding that “it would not have occurred if the hotel had provided adequate security." The hotel was made liable to pay P52M in damages to the heirs of the deceased “who was found dead after being bound, gagged and then robbed in his hotel room xxx.”[2]

There is no hotel room, no matter how luxurious, where one can lose everything or is to die for.

[1] ARTICLE 1972. The depositary is obliged to keep the thing safely and to return it, when required, to the depositor, or to his heirs and successors, or to the person who may have been designated in the contract. His responsibility, with regard to the safekeeping and the loss of the thing, shall be governed by the provisions of Title I of this Book.

If the deposit is gratuitous, this fact shall be taken into account in determining the degree of care that the depositary must observe. (1766a)

[2] Luxury Philippine hotel must pay over guest's murder: court By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 10/27/2009,


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