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Goodwin v. Georgian Hotel Co. - 197 Wash. 173, 84 P.2d 681 (1938)

Rule:

When the guest of an hotel proves that he has deposited money or other valuables for safekeeping with the hotel and that they have not been returned to him on demand, he has made a prima facie case of liability and the burden is then upon the hotelkeeper to come forward with evidence to show that the loss or destruction, if any, was not caused by the gross negligence of, or theft by, himself or his employees.

Facts:

Appellant operated the Georgian Hotel Company in Seattle. Respondent Harry Goodwin, who had been a guest of the hotel for several months, checked $1,500 with the hotel company's front desk. When Goodwin attempted to check out the cash, the hotel company's employee claimed that the envelope was missing. Suit was brought against Georgian Hotel by Goodwin to recover the amount of a cash deposit left by him with the hotel for safekeeping. At trial, Georgian Hotel's representatives claimed that Goodwin collected the money and then ripped the check off a spindle so that he could defraud Georgian Hotel. The trial court ruled in favor of Goodwin, but in an amount less than the original deposit. Both parties appealed. Georgian argued that, when compliance by the hotelkeeper with the terms of the statute has been established, the burden immediately shifts to the guest to show that the loss was caused by the theft or gross negligence of the hotelkeeper or his agents, and that, until such burden has been met, the statute affords complete protection to the hotelkeeper. Respondent Goodwin, on the other hand, contended that, when loss by the guest has been established, the burden shifts to the hotelkeeper to show that the loss was not caused by the latter's theft or gross negligence, and that, unless that burden is met, the hotelkeeper is liable for the loss.

Issue:

1. Did the hotel successfully meet the burden in proving that the loss was not caused by the theft of its employees or by their gross negligence?

2. Was the statutory limitation of liability to one thousand dollars applicable in the case at bar?

Answer:

1. No. 2. Yes.

Conclusion:

1. The Court held that the advisory jury's finding that Georgian Hotel was responsible for the Goodwin's loss would not be disturbed on appeal. Georgian Hotel failed to meet the burden of coming forward with evidence to show that the loss was not caused either by the theft of its employees or by the gross negligence of appellant or its employees. On the contrary, there was ample evidence in the case from which it could be found that the money was either stolen by some employee or else that, by reason of the gross negligence of appellant or its employees, some outsider was enabled to steal it.

2. The Court held that Georgian Hotel, as bailee of the guest's cash, was required to pay Goodwin $1,000, the statutory limit under § 6862. The Court held that the statutory limit applied whether the guest's money was stolen by a hotel company employee, other than the manager, or the hotel company lost the cash through gross negligence.

The Court affirmed the trial court's judgment that found in favor of the guest for the statutory amount.

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