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If a hotel loses your bags are they responsible?

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You may want to reconsider not using that hotel safe. (iStock)

Have you ever arrived at your hotel only to find that your room is not yet ready?  Anyone who has traveled has had this experience.  What do most people do next?  They typically check their bags with the bellman and find a place to pass the time.  A call comes a few hours later to tell them that their room is ready, but their bag, the one they checked earlier, can’t be located. 

Is the Hotel Responsible For Losing My Luggage?

Most would think the hotel is responsible for the missing bag or briefcase, but in many cases they’d be mistaken.  It comes down to these two words: limited liability. Laws vary by state, but most cases of missing or stolen items in a hotel are referred to the hotel’s insurance company, where a claim could be capped at $100, whether or not you lost a $2,000 computer.  

How can that be?  The liability for that lost luggage comes down to another word: negligence. If the hotel was negligent in the process of losing your luggage, you’d have a right to sue them for the missing bag and its contents.  If, however, there is no appearance of negligence, get ready to call your own insurance company.  For those with homeowners insurance, this may be your only option. 

In Room Security: Hotel Safes

That safe in the closet is there for two reasons.  First, it's there to protect your valuables and second, to limit the liability of the hotel should an in-room theft take place.  If a guest’s belongs are left outside the safe, and ultimately taken, it can be shown that the guest was negligent, not the hotel. The fact that the hotel provided a “safe” environment gets them off the hook for that particular loss. 

Overall Security

A hotel is expected to provide reasonable security that includes working locks, well-lit parking, secure windows, and an overall safe environment.  They also have an obligation to inform guests of any hazards should the hotel be in a high crime area.  For instance, a bellman might need to recommend a guest take a taxi to and from dinner, even though it might be a short walk to the restaurant.  The liability would fall on the hotel should they be aware of a dangerous situation, yet fail to warn their guests of it.

Hotel Employees and Guests

Hotels are liable for employees who may commit a criminal act against a guest, but are not generally liable when that act is committed by another guest or guests.  This falls under the law that states that the hotel can’t be responsible for acts that are considered outside of the property’s control.  The exception would be if a hotel was aware of a potential problem, or previous issues, but didn’t take steps to insure guest safety.  This could include not installing CCTV equipment or providing security guards when previous issues clearly warranted that step.  An example could be a hotel bar or club that has a history of fights, but hasn’t stepped up security to address this issue and prevent potential injuries.

That Sign Might Not Mean Much

Many hotels features signs to the effect that they aren’t responsible for lost or stolen items.  In some cases, this might get them off the hook, hence why we see them.  On the other hand, that property has to show that they have taken the necessary precautions to limit their liability in the event of a loss or criminal act --sign or no sign.

State by State

Laws pertaining to the liability of a hotel vary by state, so it’s important to understand what your rights are as a traveler should you find yourself a victim of a crime while traveling.  Let’s hope your travels are safe and secure, but should something happen, your next stop might be a local lawyer.  They can explain and help you understand what your rights are for that particular location. 

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Mark Murphy is a noted travel expert, author and founder of TravelPulse.com.  You can follow him on Twitter at @murphytravels.