The Lawletter Vol 35 No 11, July 29, 2011
In many jurisdictions, the potential liability of innkeepers for loss or damage to a guest's property is limited by statute. See Thomas J. Goger, Annotation, Statutory Limitations upon Innkeeper's Liability as Applicable Where Guest's Property Is Lost or Damaged Through Innkeeper's Negligence, 37 A.L.R.3d 1276 (1971 & Westlaw database updated weekly); Annotation, Construction, Scope, and Application of Words Descriptive of Property in Statute Relating to Liability of Innkeeper to Guest for Loss or Damage to Property, 115 A.L.R. 1088 (1938 & Westlaw database updated weekly). In a case of first impression, the Nevada Supreme Court has recently ruled that innkeepers remain liable for the theft of a guest's motor vehicle, despite a statute that generally limits liability for loss or damage to property. In Arguello v. Sunset Station, Inc., 252 P.3d 206 (Nev. 2011), a guest at a hotel and casino had left his vehicle with a valet, and the vehicle was stolen before the guest tried to reclaim it. A Nevada statute provides that innkeepers are not civilly liable for theft or damage to "property brought by a patron upon the premises or left in a motor vehicle upon the premises . . . in the absence of gross neglect by the owner or keeper." Nev. Rev. Stat. ' 651.010(1), construed in Arguello, 252 P.3d at 209.
The Arguello court recognized that the broad statutory language referencing "any property" could literally apply to motor vehicles, but it construed the statute more narrowly. The court reasoned that if the statute had been intended to apply to motor vehicles, it would have been unnecessary to include the phrase "or left in a motor vehicle upon the premises." According to the court, it would have been illogical to interpret the statute so that a motor vehicle could be a type of property that may be left in a motor vehicle. The court also found that a broad interpretation would be inconsistent with other provisions in the statute, such as a limitation of $750 on an innkeeper's liability and references to depositing property in safes and vaults.