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Q: Hotel Liability: Tennessee Innkeeper Statute ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Hotel Liability: Tennessee Innkeeper Statute
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: marksboy2-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 01 Nov 2002 23:11 PST
Expires: 01 Dec 2002 23:11 PST
Question ID: 96197
While staying in Memphis last weekend my hotel room was burglarized.
My laptop was stolen among other things. My loss goes way beyond the
cost of the hardware and software (lost data, personnel time, etc.).
There was no forced entry and the hotel maintenance manager read the
key-card lock and admitted that my room had been accessed while I was
away. The hotel refused to accept any liability. The hotel's insurer,
Zurich Insurance, is investigating the incident. If they do find the
hotel was negligent the maximum amount they said they will reimburse
me is $300 which is the maximum allowable damages according to the
Tennessee Innkeeper Statute. I understand that statutes may exist to
limit or prevent the liability of an innkeeper for the loss of a
guest's property. In an ideal world the hotel would reimburse me for
my entire loss (after all, someone used a housekeeping key to enter my
room). I would like to reach an agreement to get a settlement that
covers my loss.

How can I best accomplish this? What examples exist in Tennessee law
history where a court found the posting of the innkeeper statute
insufficient to avoid liability?
Subject: Re: Hotel Liability: Tennessee Innkeeper Statute
Answered By: weisstho-ga on 02 Nov 2002 21:59 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello, Marksboy2,

First of all, I am sorry to hear of the loss of your laptop.  I hope
that files contained on your machine can be retrieved.

In summary, let me say the two general rules in Tennessee:

1.  The law imposes on an innkeeper the highest standard of
care--strict liability--for the safekeeping of the personal property
of a guest in the inn, where the property is in the exclusive custody
of the innkeeper or is in the innkeeper's constructive custody by
virtue of being in the guest's room.

2.  Conspicuousness of a notice posted in a hotel guest's room,
informing the guest of the hotel safe or other convenient place where
valuables could be stored, was a question of fact for the trier of
fact; to be effective, the legal notice in a guest room must be
conspicuously posted.


There are a series of statutes in Tennessee statute that address the
liability of innkeepers, which can be found here:

But there is a case that appears to be very useful for your purpose.
The Court of Appeals of Tennessee in the 1990 case of Cook v. Columbia
Sussex, 807 S.W.2d 567 (Tenn. App. 1990)


In 1987, George Cook checked in to a Days Inn Hotel in Nashville.  On
the third day of his stay the room was burglarized while he was out.
When he returned, Mr. Cook discovered that some cash, medicines, but
most importantly a large number of sales orders which Mr. Cook had
obtained while attending a trade show, were missing.

Mr. Cook sued the owners of the hotel, Columbia Sussex, alleging
ordinary and gross negligence.  The trial judge decided in favor of
the hotel, finding that the legal notice posted on the door was
sufficient to limit the hotel’s liability, and further that Mr. Cook
had not established a breach of the hotel’s standard of care.

BUT, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and found in favor
of Mr. Cook.

The Court of Appeals noted that the old English common law made an
innkeeper almost an insurer of the goods of his guest, except as to
losses occasioned by an act of God or public enemies. However, the
Court continued, this liability is eliminated or sharply limited as to
valuables and baggage by Tennessee statute 62-7-103, 104, 105, 106.

The Legislature has given innkeepers a measure of protection from the
strict rule of liability by enacting the following statutes:

62-7-103. Safekeeping of valuables--Liability for loss.--When the
proprietor of any hotel or inn provides a safe in the office in such
hotel or inn, or other convenient place, for the safekeeping of any
money, jewels or ornaments belonging to the guests of such hotel or
inn, or for any samples of merchandise of any kind carried by drummers
or commercial travelers, and notifies the guests thereof by posting a
notice (stating the fact that in such safe or other convenient place
money, jewels, ornaments or samples may be deposited) in the rooms
occupied by such guests, in a conspicuous manner, and if such guests
neglect to deposit such money, jewels, ornaments or samples of
merchandise in such safe or other convenient place, the proprietor is
not liable for any loss of such money, jewels, ornaments or samples of
merchandise sustained by such guest, by theft, or otherwise.

62-7-104. Restriction on liability for losses from safe.--The
liability of the hotel or innkeeper for the safekeeping in the safe or
other convenient place as provided in  62-7-103 shall be limited to
an amount not exceeding three hundred dollars ($300), unless a written
contract is entered into providing a greater liability between the
guest and the proprietor of the hotel or inn. The notice required to
be posted by the proprietor of the hotel or inn in a conspicuous
manner in the rooms occupied by such guests shall contain a recitation
of the limitation of liability as herein provided, and the provision
of greater liability being dependent upon a written contract between
the proprietor and the guest.

62-7-105. Checkroom--Liability for loss.--When the proprietor of any
hotel or inn provides a checkroom or other convenient storage place in
his building for the checking, storage and safekeeping of the personal
baggage, other than money, jewels, ornaments and samples of
merchandise, carried by drummers or commercial travelers, or their
guests, or those intending to become guests, and notifies the guests
thereof by posting a notice in its lobby or office in a conspicuous
manner that such checkroom or other storage place has been provided,
should any guest, or person intending to become a guest, neglect to
deposit any such personal baggage other than money, jewels, ornaments
or samples provided for in sections 62-7-103 and 62-7-104 in the
checkroom or storage place, and leave such baggage in any other place
than a room assigned to such guests, then the proprietor is not liable
for the loss or theft thereof, unless the same was stolen by some
employee of such inn or hotel; provided, that the hotel proprietor
makes no extra charge for storing or checking property.


First, the Court found that Section 62-7-105 did not apply since the
loss did not involve Mr. Cook’s baggage.

Second, Section 62-7-103’s purpose was to shield the innkeeper from
the loss of goods and articles described in the statute if the
innkeeper provides a place for safekeeping AND notifies the guest of
the availability of that safe place.  This NOTICE must be posted in a
“conspicuous manner” and the Court found that the notice (“six inches
by three inches and in fine print”) in the Cook case was posted on the
inside of the guest room door. Whether this posting was “conspicuous”
was a question of fact for the judge/jury.

Third, a court must apply the strict rule to goods left in a guest
room. Bringing an article into a guest’s room is a “constructive
entrustment” to the hotel keeper. Unless required by statute, it is
not required that property of the guest should be placed in the
special keeping of the innkeeper or that the innkeeper be given
exclusive possession or complete dominion over it.

It is generally sufficient if the property is in the inn under the
general and implied care and control of the innkeeper. Thus, unless
the guest assumes the exclusive control and possession of the
property, it is deemed to be within the custody of the innkeeper so as
to render the innkeeper responsible where it is in the room of the
guest, or where it is in a room or place in the inn provided or
customarily used for the reception or keeping of articles of the class
to which it belongs.


If you desire any amplifying information, please let me know by
clicking on the “Clarification” button – I will get right back to you.
Best of luck in replacing your valuable property. 

Search strategy:

Request for Answer Clarification by marksboy2-ga on 03 Nov 2002 08:43 PST
Thank you for a very helpful answer. Cook v. Columbia Sussex is a good
example. One quick clarification. I believe the hotel 'policies' made
matters worse and significantly reduced the likelihood the crime could
be solved. Specifically, the manager on duty left before the police
arrived to take a police report. The manager also excused the
housekeeper (the only person who accessed our room while I was gone)
before the police could question her. I'm obviously not a lawyer, but
this almost seems fraudulent. Was there anything else in the Cook v.
Columbia Sussex case about hotel contributing to the problem? Thanks
again for your expertise.

Clarification of Answer by weisstho-ga on 03 Nov 2002 12:41 PST
Welcome Back, Marksboy2,

This is turning into a very interesting Bar Exam question!!  Kinda fun
for we legal nerd types  :o)

First of all, let me apologize for the formatting of my original
answer – when I posted the answer there were lots of nice white space
divisions to separate the various sections, and they seem to have
disappeared somewhere in the Googleplex.

Let’s break this problem down into the following phases:
1.  Civil case I – Innkeepers Negligence leading up to the theft;
2.  Civil case II – Innkeepers actions after reporting the theft;
3.  Criminal case – Tie in to Civil Case
4.  Respondeat Superior – Liability of employer for wrongful acts of
its employees
Civil Case I – Innkeepers Negligence
     This was discussed in the main answer and is summarized: 
Innkeepers are STRICTLY LIABLE for their own negligence that leads to
your loss, however the Tennessee statutes can abrogate that liability
if the notice of the limits to the Innkeepers liability were
conspicuously posted and you were aware of them.=

Civil Case II – Innkeepers actions after reporting the theft
     I don’t believe that these issues create liability, but the
actions of the management in not showing concern and participating in
the investigation of a valuable piece of property may be probative of
their lack of concern with procedures to safeguard your goods while
they were in the room, prior to the robbery.
     The hotel in “Civil Case I” would argue that “of course, WE
weren’t negligent! We care about our guests and follow procedures!” 
Then, during the investigation, they release witnesses and fail to
participate in the recover – well as one legal scholar (I think it was
Thoreau) once said:  “there’s a trout in the milk.”  Something is
wrong here and their post-theft conduct supports a theory that the
hotel did not have procedures for anti-theft/theft in place, and if
they did, did not follow them.

Criminal Case – Tie-in to Civil Case
     IF the police discover the thief, then you have two actions: 
First, you could recover civil damages through a civil cause of action
from the thief after the criminal conviction; or, second, the court
could order that the thief make restitution to you as part of the
thief’s criminal sentence.   The obvious problem here is (a) can the
police apprehend the thief, and (b) is the thief collectible?

Respondeat Superior – Liability of employer for wrongful acts of its
     This is also a civil cause of action, where when the wrongful act
of an employee is shown (by their arrest in the criminal case) that
you then recover from the employer for the wrongful act of its

Miscellaneous Other Thoughts:

1.  Does your homeowners insurance cover the loss of a laptop?

2.  When the maintenance engineer at the hotel told you that the room
was accessed by a key card, did he/she indicate that the key card was
only that of the housekeeper?  How many times?  It would be usual for
the room to be accessed either once or twice – once by the
housekeeper, and PERHAPS by the housekeeping supervisor to check the
quality of the housekeepers work (though they may not check on
“stay-overs” leaving the checks to rooms that were cleaned on guest
check-out only).  I understand that most key-card systems could have
indicated what kind of key was used (guest or staff) and the question
here is: (a) could theirs, and (b) if it could, did they preserve the

3.  Did you get the names of the manager-on-duty, the housekeeper and
the maintenance engineer?

4.  Have you communicated with both the hotel owner and, if
applicable, the franchiser of the hotel?  Typically, the hotel
management does not have any authority to settle matters of this
nature. The owner may be willing to settle and have the matter over
with.  Some franchise systems have departments that deal with customer
complaints and work with the owners to settle them.

5.  Did you obtain a copy of the police report?  

6.  Can you place a value on the information stored within your
computer. In the Columbia Sussex case, remember that money and
prescription drugs were stolen, AND the sales slips.  Well, the
plaintiff had valued the sales slips at over $17,000 (they were orders
taken at a trade show and could not be reconstructed).  If you had
information contained in your computer that would be costly or
impossible to reconstruct, your loss would then be substantially
greater than just the cost of the lap top.

I am afraid that this exhausts my opinions on this matter.  Clearly,
what makes a case such as this difficult is the amount of money at
issue.  Assuming your lap-top is worth $1200-$2500 (and there was no
value to what was contained in the computer’s memory), the value is
too great to forget about, but perhaps not enough to launch a civil
lawsuit over, unless the attorney is fairly sure that you would be
able to collect legal fees as part of your recovery.

Nevertheless – an attorney would be a necessary avenue in a case like
this. I can’t imagine that a small claims court judge is going to be
particularly attuned to the issues in Columbia Sussex, which would
require you to go to the more formal legal channels.

Again, best of luck in recovering your information and your money.

marksboy2-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $15.00
weisstho-ga provided a very clear, very specific, and very helpful
answer. It was the exact kind of answer I was looking for...being a
first time user I will certainly use Google Answers again and would
recommend weisstho-ga to anyone. Thanks.

Subject: Re: Hotel Liability: Tennessee Innkeeper Statute
From: journalist-ga on 02 Nov 2002 07:46 PST
I don't think this answers your question but it may point you to a
couple of cases that will, or at least give you a better
understanding.  Sorry I couldn't locate the actual statute.

The following is located at

The defendants correctly cite Zang v. Leonard, 643 S.W.2d 657 (Tenn.
App. 1982), as setting forth the standard of care required of
innkeepers: the duty placed on innkeepers to protect registered guests
from the misconduct of third persons is a duty of care under all the
circumstances. 643 S.W.2d at 663. As the court in Kveragas v. Scottish
Inns. Inc., 733 F.2d 409, 413 (6th Cir. 1984)(interpreting Tennessee
law) noted, the standard of care required under Zang is a "reasonable
person" standard. However, the court in Kveragas also noted that the
Zang court did not leave the application of the general due care
standard to the unfettered discretion of the jury. Rather, the jury in
assessing due care should consider the following factors: [i] the
nature and use of the land, [ii] the nature of the invitation, [iii]
the nature of the relationship with the invitee, [iv] the opportunity
of the possessor and the invitee to know and avoid existing or
probable dangers, and [v] any and all factors which would challenge
the attention of the possessor and/or invitee to the probability of
danger to the invitee and produce the precautions which a reasonably
prudent person would instigate under the same or similar
circumstances. 733 F.2d at 413, citing Zang, 643 S.W.2d at 663. And,
as the court in Kveragas noted, under the Zang rule, the first
responsibility of the factfinder is to determine "what, if any,
protective measures would have been employed by a reasonably prudent
motel operator under the same circumstances" which the factfinder
finds existed at the time of tile injury. Id..The finding of fact as
to the protective measures that a reasonably prudent motel operator
would have employed is to be based on a comprehensive study of all
relevant conditions. The Kveragas court listed some of the appropriate
considerations that the court in Zang considered relevant to the
question of an innkeeper's duty to protect its guests against criminal
assault by third persons:
Page 18 
SAMPLE Brief Opposing Summary Judgment Innkeeper's Liability
(Tennessee law)  page 18 * Whether the motel is advertised as an
unusual establishment which offers better than ordinary facilities; *
Whether the location of the motel is such as to be convenient to
criminals; * Whether prior assaults or other criminal acts have
occurred on the premises; * The cost of various protective measures
weighed against the expected benefit of those measures; * The ability
of the guest to protect himself by employing available and relatively
inexpensive protective measures such as deadbolt locks and other
devices; * Compliance or noncompliance with the industry standard, if
such a standard exists and is found to be reasonable; * Compliance or
noncompliance with internal safety procedures if such procedures
exist; * The inconvenience to guests occasioned by particular
protective measures; * Any other factor or circumstance that the trial
court determines, in light of the particular facts of each case, is
relevant to the ultimate fact question regarding reasonable protective
measures. 733 F.2d at 414. Nearly all of those considerations have
been ignored by the defendants in their Memorandum in support of their
motion for summary judgment, and not surprisingly so because each of
those listed factors is relevant to this action and works against
defendants' motion. In asserting that there is no genuine issue of
fact regarding the duty of care and the breach of that duty, the
defendants concentrate on a single factor: the ability of the guest to
protect himself by employing the available safety devices. The
defendants have ignored completely the questions of: (i) noncompliance
with industry standards regarding the rekeying of locks and the
surveillance of the motel; (ii) the inadequacy of the safety sheet
informing residents to use all three locks at all times; (iii) the
undisputed fact that even had a deadbolt been engaged, the assailant
had and was willing to use the master deadbolt key; (iv) the
inconvenience to the guests occasioned by having to throw a chain each
and every time they entered the room, even when they planned to leave
within minutes; (v) the lack of internal procedures to safeguard the
room keys (including deadbolt keys) or the noncompliance with the
motel's procedures in this regard;
Page 19 
SAMPLE Brief Opposing Summary Judgment Innkeeper's Liability
(Tennessee law)  page 19 (vi) the failure to provide a manned
gatehouse, a fence securing the motel property, and other reasonable
security measures given the frequent occurrence of prior assaults or
criminal activity in and near the motel; (vii) the relative proximity
of the motel to a high crime area such as to make it convenient to
criminals; and (viii) the noncompliance with (or lack of) both
internal procedures and industry standards regarding the surveillance
of hallways and common areas so as to preclude the entry of
unregistered guests. In Kveragas, the court reversed the district
court's directed verdict for the defendants, finding, inter alia, that
motel guests who were attacked and robbed by intruders presented
sufficient evidence for the jury on issues of (i) whether a reasonably
prudent motel operator would have employed more substantial doors and
locks; and (ii) whether intruders would have been able to gain entry
into the guests room if such protective measures had been adopted.
Similarly, in this action, the factfinder is entitled to hear all the
evidence and resolve the issue regarding the issues of (i) whether a
reasonably prudent motel operator would have employed better safety
procedures regarding its keys, its surveillance of the premises and
its warnings to guests, and (ii) whether the intruder in this case
would have been able to gain entry into Guest's room if such
protective measures had been adopted. Plaintiffs suggest that the
evidence to date supports a finding that the innkeepers should have
had better safety procedures, and, had they had better safety
procedures, the assailant would have never made it into Guest's room
at the motel. The affidavits of experts Experts 1 and 2 raise a jury
issue as to whether Not-Very could and should have done more than they
did. The affidavits of Experts 3 and 1 regarding the Dangerous
Not-Very's failure to rekey or change out locks when keys were
unaccounted for, together with the affidavit of Employee 1 and the
testimony of Manager A and Cup confirming
Page 20 
SAMPLE Brief Opposing Summary Judgment Innkeeper's Liability
(Tennessee law)  page 20 that, clearly establishes a fact question
about whether Not-Very did all it could to (i) prevent the criminal's
presence on the motel premises, (ii) warn Guest and Alsoguest about
the need for extra precaution even in the daytime, and (iii) control
the access of keys to guests' rooms. The question of Guest's presumed
comparative fault also remains an issue for the factfinder. The
plaintiffs are entitled to make all reasonable inferences that can
drawn from the facts, and the factfinder is entitled to consider all
those reasonable inferences once the evidence is fully presented at
trial. Considering allthe circumstances, even at this early stage of
discovery, the simple fact that a chain lock was available does not
resolve the issue. The questions are whether the motel did all it
could to preclude the intruder's entry into Guest's room. Material
issues of fact remain on that issue. D. Disputed Issues of Material
Fact Remain for the Factfinder's Determination on the Question of
Causation. The defendants also argue that, as a matter of law, the
proximate cause of Guest's injuries was his own failure to properly
secure his room. That is, the defendants argue that had Guest thrown
the deadbolt and secured the chain lock, he would not have been
assaulted. The facts suggest a different, reasonable inference: the
assailant had a room key, a deadbolt key, a switch blade and a
handgun. The assailant was violent, and willing to use violence to
gain entry to the room. Indeed, when Alsoguest locked the bathroom
door between himself and the assailant, he was just as unsafe as being
behind an unlocked door. The assailant announced his willingness to
use his handgun to blast the door open. It is a reasonable inference
from all of the facts that the assailant having a room key, a deadbolt
pass key and weapons, would not have been hindered by the chain lock.
Indeed, plaintiffs' experts have testified by affidavit that the chain
lock would not have imposed any reasonable restraint to an assailant
intent on entering the room. Moreover, it is impossible to throw a
chain lock from the hallway, and it is equally reasonable to believe
Page 21 
SAMPLE Brief Opposing Summary Judgment Innkeeper's Liability
(Tennessee law)  page 21 that the assailant, having a room key and a
deadbolt key, if met with a chain lock at one instance might not have
entered the room while Guest was gone and waited for his return to rob
and assault him. As the court in Kveragas emphasized in response to
similar arguments by the motel operator in that case, for purposes of
determining causation: The crucial inquiry [for purposes of
determining causation] is "what could and should have been anticipated
by defendants" and what the result likely would have been if the
defendants had adopted reasonable protective measures designed to
prevent these anticipated dangers. Some criminals are bent on violence
regardless of the obstacles placed in front of them ... The ultimate
causation question is whether the injured party would have suffered
the same injury if the motel operator had employed the protective
measures which the factfinder determines should have been employed in
the exercise of reasonable diligence. If the factfinder determines
that the guest's injuries would not have occurred. or would have been
less severe if reasonable protective measures had been employed, then
the failure to employ these measures is the cause of these injuries.
733 F.2d at 415 (emphasis supplied). Here, there will be expert
testimony that Guest's injuries (and his wife's resultant injuries)
would not have occurred if the Not-Very defendants had employed
certain protective measures, including the proper supervision of room
keys; the routine change, rotation or re-keying of locks and/or
cylinders; the compliance with industry standards regarding the
quality and design of door locks; and the warning of Guest that there
was a risk of other unknown persons having access to room keys and/or
that there were previous assaults, robberies or attempted assaults and
robberies on or near the premises in previous months. Not-Very's own
corporate representative, Manager A, testified that if she were
checking into a motel back in August 19__, and the management told her
about all of the prior incidents of robberies and car thefts and other
criminal activities that had occurred at the Dangerous Not-Very and
also told her that they suspected that they were missing a master key,
she would not have checked into the motel. She does not know of any
reason that Guest could not have been told about the prior criminal
activity, but she believes that people may have decided not to stay at
Page 22 
SAMPLE Brief Opposing Summary Judgment Innkeeper's Liability
(Tennessee law)  page 22 the Dangerous Not-Very if they had been
given that information. The affidavit testimony of plaintiffs' experts
 and the testimony of Manager A  supports a finding that had they
known about the incidence of crime, the suspicion of a missing master
key and the lack of accounting for room keys, Guest and Alsoguest may
not have chosen to stay at the Dangerous Not-Very at all. The
defendants' emphasis on what more Guest could have done to protect
himself is not the crucial inquiry. Tennessee is a comparative fault
state. McIntyre v. Ballentine, 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992), and there
can be more than one cause of an injury. If the defendants' negligence
was a substantial factor in producing the end result, it is a
proximate cause of that result, even if it was not the sole cause, the
last act or the negligent act closest to the injury. McClenahan v.
Cooley, 806 S.W.2d 767 (Tenn. 1991). So long as a factual basis
exists, it is the prerogative of the factfinder to determine the
relative degree of fault. Therefore, should the factfinder determine
that Guest failed to act as a reasonably prudent person by using a
single lock in the daytime and without any notice as to the propensity
for violent crimes in the neighborhood and the suspicion of a missing
master key, then Guest's negligence would simply be compared to that
of the defendants. It would not determine the issue of causation.
There is simply no authority for defendants' suggestion that a motel
guest's failure to throw a chain or deadbolt lock every time the guest
enters the room constitutes, as a matter of law, such overriding
negligence such as to constitute the sole proximate cause of a
third-party assault. Under a system of comparative fault, the question
of causation is for the factfinder after presentation of the evidence
by plaintiffs at trial.
Subject: Re: Hotel Liability: Tennessee Innkeeper Statute
From: journalist-ga on 02 Nov 2002 08:00 PST
Here is another that has to do with security liability in a Tennessee
hotel kidnapping case:

parking lot security case -
[this does list the Memphis lawyer's names, they might could help]

This blurb was at
but not sure if it applies to hotels:

"S. Staffordshire Water v. Sharman--property owner owns what's
attached or imbedded in his property--but not necessarily everything
ON his property.  Leading Tennessee case is Morgan v. Wiser--treasure
trove--obviously intended to be concealed--public policy demands that
trespassing not be encouraged."

Hope this helps.

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