United States: The California Innkeeper Statute Defense

An important legal defense available to operators of hotels in California1  – but one which is relatively unknown to the plaintiffs' Bar -- is the so-called "Innkeeper Statute", codified at California Civil Code sections 1859 and 1860. Basically, these sections (originally enacted in 1872 and subsequently amended) limit the liability of a hotel operator to either $1,000 or $500, in the event that a guest's personal valuables are stolen, damaged or otherwise lost while a guest at the hotel.

Section 1859:
Section 1859 refers to guests' property of remaining in their possession in the rooms of the inn or hotel. Gardner v. Jonathan Club (1950) 35 Cal.2d 343, 351. This section limits the liability of a hotel operator for losses of or injuries to a guest's personal property: "...in no case shall such liability exceed the sum of one thousand dollars ($1,000) in the aggregate....unless he (the operator) shall have consented in writing with the owner thereof to assume a greater liability."

Section 1860:
This section refers to articles placed in the hotel's safe in the possession of the innkeeper. Gardner, supra, at 351. In today's hospitality industry, most hotels offer safe deposit boxes at or near the front desk, wherein guests can temporarily lodge their valuables. The availability of these safe deposit boxes is generally posted on a sign behind the door in each guest room. Additionally, some hotels also post this information in the guest information directory in each guest room.

Section 1860 provides in pertinent part:

"If an innkeeper, hotelkeeper...keeps a fireproof safe and gives notice to a guest...either personally or by putting up a printed notice in a prominent place in the office or the room occupied by the guest...that he keeps such a safe and will not be liable for money, jewelry, documents, furs, fur coats and fur garments, or other articles of unusual value and small compass, unless placed therein, he is not liable, except so far as his own acts shall contribute thereto, for any loss of or injury to such articles if not deposited with him to be placed therein, nor in any case for more than the sum of five hundred dollars ($500) for any or all such property of any individual guest,...unless he shall have given a receipt in writing therefore to such guest..." (Emphasis added.)

Although the section refers to a "fireproof safe", case law establishes that this includes safe deposit boxes, of the type commonly available in hotels. In Nagashima v. Hyatt Wilshire Corporation (1991) 288 Call.App.3d 1006, the Court of Appeal upheld the $500 limit of liability provided by section 1860. Further, Nagashima held that the property need not be in the hotel's possession when damaged, lost or stolen, in order for the liability limit of section 1860 to apply.

In Nagashima, the plaintiff, a guest at the defendant hotel, had deposited personal jewelry worth $72,000 in one of the hotel's safe deposit boxes. She had not informed the hotel in writing of the value of this property, nor had the hotel agreed in writing to assume any liability greater that the amount specified in section 1859. The hotel had posted printed notices in every room of the hotel informing guests that a safe was available for safekeeping of their valuables and that the hotel would not be liable for property of unusual value unless placed in the hotel safe. Just before checking out of the hotel, the plaintiff retrieved her jewelry from the hotel's safe and was standing at the checkout counter in the lobby when an unidentified thief stole the jewelry from her person.

The facts of the foregoing were stipulated to by the parties, and the case was submitted to the trial judge for a determination of whether the limits of the Innkeeper Statute applied. The trial judge reasoned that, because the property was not under the control of the hotel at the time of the theft, the liability limit of section 1860 did not apply, and the court entered judgment for the plaintiff in the sum of $72,000.

The Court of Appeal reversed, stating at page 1010:

"In the present case, defendant kept a fireproof safe and gave notice thereof to plaintiff, thus invoking the protection of section 1860.

Because defendant did not agree to assume liability in excess of the statutory limitation, defendant's liability 'for losses of or injuries to personal property' is limited to $500 whether or not the property was in the possession of the hotel at the time of the loss or injury. (Citation omitted.)". (Emphasis added.)

The court further stated at page 1011:

"As to articles which have been 'placed in the safe in the possession of the innkeeper' [citation], section 1860 clearly limits the liability of a hotelkeeper to $500 (except where the hotelkeeper has agreed in writing to assume a greater liability). This liability is not restricted to the period of time in which the articles are actually inside the hotel safe; the language of section 1860 encompasses the plaintiff's situation, where the valuables were deposited in a safe, subsequently withdrawn by the guest, and taken from her as she checked out of the hotel."

Practice Tips:

In a case where the plaintiff seeks recovery for loss or damage to personal property while a guest at a hotel, the defendant hotel's Answer to the Complaint should include an affirmative defense asserting the liability limits of the "Innkeeper Statute" (Civ. Code §§1859 and 1860.) A determination should also be made as to whether: (1) the hotel offers a safe or safe deposit boxes to its guests for their valuables, and (2) whether the hotel posts a sign in the guest's room (usually on the back of the door), advising of the availability of the safe/safe deposit boxes. Some hotels also include this information in their guest information directory in each room.

If the guest's lost or stolen property was large in volume (eg, multiple suitcases) which would not fit into a safe deposit box, a determination should be made as to whether the hotel offers to its guest its "Bell Closet" or other secured room, for those who wish to store their luggage or other large items (eg, an expensive bicycle) temporarily. This is a common request by hotel guests, particularly on the day of check-out. Such a secured room is arguably tantamount to a safe or safe deposit box, and should help to invoke the liability limits of section 1860, when a large amount of property was lost or stolen.

Finally, a Motion for Summary Judgment and/or for Summary Adjudication should be pursued in an effort to short-circuit the plaintiff's lawsuit and/or to lower the plaintiff's damages expectations.


1 These Code sections actually provides protection to a wide array of businesses, including operators of licensed hospitals, rest homes or sanitariums, and boardinghouse or lodging house keepers.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions