The Hotel Proprietors’ Act 1956 forces a duty on hotel proprietors to make good the loss of a guest’s property, unless they can prove the loss was incurred as a result of the guest’s own negligence.
Under the Act, damages are a fixed sum if a sign is displayed in a prominent place confirming the extent of the proprietor’s duty. However, the limitation on liability does not apply where the loss is due to the hotelier’s negligence or that of its employees.
Let’s look at the case of Anande v Firoka:
On 18 November 2015 Mrs Anade checked into the Holiday Inn King’s Cross. She had a large quantity of jewellery and other property which was placed in the safe in her room. Whilst at dinner, her room was burgled and the safe was removed from her wardrobe. Her property was not recovered.
Before leaving her room previously, Mrs Anade had complained to the hotelier that her door had not been locking properly but when inspected by one of the hotelier’s employees she was told that she needed to pull it firmly shut. Because of this, when she left for dinner she made sure that the door was securely locked.
Following the burglary, the electronic door locking system was inspected and was apparently found to be in full working condition.
Mrs Anade contended that the hotelier had negligently failed to ensure the door locked effectively and having issued proceedings, she sought damages from the hotel in excess of £50,000 for the loss of her property.
The hotelier denied negligence and stated that the room was secured with a “state of the art electronic proximity lock” which was in good working order.
Shortly before trial, the hotelier then disclosed a bundle of documents relating to a series of thefts on 3 October 2015. Four rooms had been entered and property stolen in circumstances where there was no signed of forced entry and where the door locks were found to be in good working order.
Despite this disclosure and the court finding that the burglary had occurred because of the problems with the lock, of which the hotelier had notice, at first instance the court found that Mrs Anade was only entitled to fixed damages pursuant to the Act in the sum of £1,500. Accordingly, she was ordered to pay the hotel’s costs of the proceedings. Mrs Anade appealed.
During the appeal, the hotelier provided documents on news reports from 2013 concerning the weakness of the locks (made by Onity) which revealed a big problem relating to hacking. The report showed that the problem had been reported in both the UK and USA.
The appeal court said that once the hotelier had identified that rooms had been unlawfully entered by breaching the electronic lock, it was incumbent on it to do something about that. The court found that the hotelier could not continue to rely on locks which it knew could be breached. The court said the hotelier could not continue to rely upon the locks simply because the system was reputable and widely used.
The court found that Mrs Anade had established negligence on the part of the hotelier. Guests at a prestigious central London hotel were reasonably entitled to believe that the doors to their rooms would be secure. By failing to adequately respond to the October thefts the hotelier was in breach of its duty. Her loss was caused by the hotelier’s negligence and accordingly, her claim would be allowed in full.
What do we learn from this?
Hoteliers need to take security seriously. By saying something is widely used in the industry is unlikely to be sufficient to allow hoteliers to rely upon the limitation provisions of the Act.
This could have been a different story if the hotelier had notified Mrs Anade of the security risk.
As always, any questions or support with the above please email us at: [email protected] or phone 0151 230 8931.