A case in now making its way through the Oklahoma Court System that could open the door to liability claims for which you probably have no coverage in your current hotel insurance program.
Background: A vehicle was parked in a hotel parking lot with a trailer attached and another vehicle in the trailer, along with some tools. The hotel never took control of the vehicle or had possession of the keys. The hotel has been sued for the loss of the vehicle(s), trailer and any and all property.
The hotel has raised the defense that it was not liable as it never had the care, custody or control of the vehicle. The judge has allowed the suit to go forward, based on a 1911 Oklahoma Statute and a prior court case.
The case is awaiting trial. Numerous requests for summary judgment for the defendant have been denied. The judge has ruled that the case can go forward based on a 1911 Statute and a prior court case:
Vilella v. Sabine, Inc., the Supreme Court of Oklahoma interpreted its innkeeper’s liability statute as imposing liability for the loss of a guest’s car and contents, absent proof of actual notice or delivery to an authorized employee. The statutory requirement “placed under his (the innkeeper’s) care” was met by proof that the property was brought in to the inn in the usual and ordinary way and was not retained under the guest’s exclusive control. A vehicle parked in an outside, unenclosed parking lot that was provided for the use of guests and was patrolled during the night was held within the ambit of the innkeeper liability.
This puts an unfair burden on you the owner where you have no control. Only in Oklahoma and Utah have innkeepers been held responsible for anything in their parking lot, where there is free parking and no physical control or possession of the vehicle or goods were assumed.
That being said, in talking with two different attorneys, until the 1911 Oklahoma Statute is amended or rewritten you could be held responsible for vehicle damage or theft.
Unless you provide valet parking, you probably have NO INSURANCE COVERAGE in your hotel insurance program for this type of loss. Until now it has been thought that under most common law, which requires an acceptance of control of some type of the vehicle and property, gave you the owner, a legal defense. Not so in Oklahoma.
According to legal counsel I’ve talked with, some of the precautions that you have taken to make your premises more secure could actually work against you in certain situations. Cameras and security patrols could possibly increase your liability. I know, it makes no sense and I’m not advocating that you remove cameras or cancel patrols if you have them. I’m just passing on information I’ve received.
The essence is this: YOU ARE CURRENTLY AT RISK if you do not have coverage for vehicles in your parking lot. You probably have a very limited amount of coverage on any contents in that vehicle. I anticipate that if the above suit results in a verdict for the plaintiff we will see an avalanche of claims. However, again according to the attorneys I’ve talked with, until the statute is amended, you have a chance of being drug into court. If you have questions, please call our office or contact your attorney concerning your potential liability.
It is imperative that you contact you State Senators and Representatives and visit with them about the necessity of amending/clarifying this statute. It would be a good idea to get with the Lodging Associations in your various cities as well as the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Until we can get our legislature to amend this statute, RCI Insurance Group has put together an insurance program for Oklahoma hoteliers to provide this coverage on a limited basis. The premiums should range from around $650 a year to $1,200 a year.
Please contact Mick Cottom or a member of the Hospitality Division Team immediately at 918-341-6081 or toll free at 800-753-5797 to discuss.