The Indiana Court of Appeals decided Wednesday that an Evansville hotel cannot be considered negligent after its employees allowed a man into a guest room without the guests’ permission, resulting in the theft of the guests’ personal property.
After a fire at their home, Brenda and John Smith became guests at a Comfort Inn in Evansville on Aug. 7, 2012, but were arrested and incarcerated for two weeks on Aug. 18 before posting bail. Before their arrest, the Smiths had deposited an insurance draft in the hotel’s safebox and had also brought some personal property that had survived the fire into their room, including a coin collection and sports memorabilia.
While they were in jail, Comfort Inn staff allowed Daniel Crawley into the Smiths’ room without the couple’s permission, and Crawly took all of the couple’s personal possessions. Additionally, the hotel handed the contents of the safety deposit box to Luke Warren, who was also not authorized to handle the Smiths’ possessions. However, they were able to recover the insurance draft from Warren after their release.
The Smiths filed a negligence complaint against Comfort Inn in September 2013 for allowing Crawley to enter their room and remove their personal belongings. Comfort Inn filed a motion for summary judgment in January 2015, arguing that there was no genuine issue of material fact that its “maximum liability, if any, to the (Smiths is) capped at one hundred dollars,” pursuant to Indiana code.
In its September 2015 findings, the Vanderburgh Circuit Court wrote that, “the (Comfort Inn) has no liability to (the Smiths) or any other party for any money, jewelry, ornaments, furs, bank notes, bonds, negotiable security, or other valuable property…since (the Smiths) failed to deliver any such property to the person in charge of the office for deposit in a safe.” The trial court further wrote that any liability Comfort Inn had could not exceed $200.
The Smiths appealed, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment in favor of Comfort Inn, pointing to the Innkeeper Statute in its decision.
Under the statute, an innkeeper’s liability related to personal property is capped at $200. The Smiths argued in their appeal that the statute is not applicable in their case because “Comfort Inn’s agents facilitated that theft of (their) property” and, therefore, was negligent.
But the appellate court wrote Wednesday that there was no evidence that Comfort Inn had conspired with Crawley to steal the couple’s personal property.
“In fact, by specifically relying on a negligence theory in an attempt to establish an intentional tort or criminal activity on the part of the Comfort Inn, the Smiths place their situation squarely within the statutory provision,” the court wrote.
Judge L. Mark Bailey concurred in result without a separate opinion.
The Court of Appeals upheld summary judgment in favor of Comfort Inn. The case is Brenda K. (Layman) Smith and John C. Smith v. Dunn Hospitality Group Manager, Inc. d/b/a Comfort Inn, 82A05-1509-CT-1635.