Maximizing protection under the Hotelkeeper’s Liability Act

By: Jeremy D. Engle
Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C.
Madison, WI|
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

It’s a standard practice: post notice on the back of each guest room door, stating that the hotel has a safe for storing guests’ valuables and that the hotel isn’t liable for the loss of valuables not stored in the safe. By following these statutory requirements, the hotel is supposed to be protected from liability for guests’ lost valuables so long as the hotel’s negligence isn’t the reason for the loss. But merely complying with the statutory requirements may not offer the protection one presumes.

The problem is that some courts have limited the protection provided by the Wisconsin Hotelkeeper’s Liability Act, and similar statutes in other states, by ruling that the statute doesn’t apply in situations where the guest doesn’t have an opportunity to secure valuables with the hotel. Specifically, courts have ruled that the statutes don’t protect hotels around the check-in and check-out periods. That may not sound like a big deal, but consider the Wisconsin case where a guest sued a hotel, alleging that after checking in and entering his room, he was assaulted and the attackers stole more than a million dollars worth of diamonds from him. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, there was no dispute that the hotel had fully complied with the Wisconsin Hotelkeeper’s Liability Act – it provided a safe, had adequate locks, and posted sufficient notice on the bathroom doors. Yet the federal appeals court, which was applying Wisconsin law, decided that the statute did not protect the hotel because a guest who had just entered his room didn’t have the chance to review the notice and use the safe. Thus, the court allowed the million dollar lawsuit against the hotel to proceed.

To continue reading about protections of the Hotelkeeper’s Liability Act, click here.