JurisdictionUnited States
Publication year2021

§ 4.03 Responsibility to Guests and Non-Guests

The legal obligations between the traveler and the hotel depend upon whether the traveler is a guest. If the hotel physically accepts the traveler as a guest, and, actually, provides accommodations or services based upon that status, then the hotel is bound to perform its common law duties as modified by statute. The act of physical acceptance is critical since it gives the innkeeper an opportunity to accept or reject the traveler.178 Acceptance need not be formal but will be implied when a room is assigned or food provided. If the innkeeper properly refuses to accept the guest, then the hotel is not bound to perform its common law duties. Since the act of acceptance depends upon the situs of the hotel, the common or civil law obligations flowing to the guest may be defined by local law.

A non-guest can, of course, have a legal relationship with a hotel but that relationship does not entail the innkeeper's common law duties. For example, the hotel's standard of care in protecting persons from the criminal misconduct of others will depend upon whether the injured person was a guest or a non-guest.179

From the standpoint of travel litigation, the difference between guest and nonguest can be substantial.180 Historically, the traveler presents himself at the hotel and demands a room, the hotel is under a duty to provide accommodations if they are available.181 If the hotel improperly refuses to perform this duty then it may be held strictly liable and punitive damages may be recovered.182 The hotel may be equally liable if it physically accepts the traveler as a guest and then improperly ejects him.183 However, if the hotel "accepts" the traveler by promising to deliver future accommodations which later become unavailable, then the hotel may insulate itself from its common law duties.184 The traveler may purchase a confirmed reservation, rely upon the availability of hotel accommodations, travel 4000 miles, arrive tired and weary, demand his paid for accommodations and be refused admittance because no rooms are available.185 Even though the hotel contracted for the delivery of accommodations, its refusal to deliver may not render it strictly liable for violating the common law. In this situation, the traveler must sue the hotel for breach of contract, negligence or fraud, and must prove liability. The courts are divided as to whether compensatory or punitive damages may be recovered if liability is proved.186


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