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Travel law: Theft of guest’s property in Milan hotel – who is liable for the loss?

Travel law: Theft of guest’s property in Milan hotel – who is liable for the loss?

In this week’s article, we examine the case of Eckhart v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 53425/2013 (West. Sup.) TJR, Decision dated September 26, 2016, in which a United States citizen sought damages arising from the theft of her personal property from her hotel room at the Sheraton Milan Malpensa Hotel in Milan, Italy. The Decision is instructive on such issues as what law applies, New York or Italian, and the application of the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Terror Targets Update

In 650% Increase in Deaths from Terrorism Amongst OECD Member Countries, eturbonews.com (11/16/2016) it was noted that “The total number of deaths caused by terrorism decreased by 10% to 29,276 in 2015 according to the Global Terrorism Index 2016, reversing a four-year upward trend. The military interventions against ISIL and Boko Haram have resulted in a 32% reduction of deaths in Iraq and Nigeria, which contributed to an overall reduction in the global figure. However, while ISIL and Boko Haram were weakened at home, these organizations spread to other countries, increasing the impact of terrorism in the rest of the world and contributing to a 6% deterioration in this year’s overall (Global Terrorism Index)”.


Jordan

In Baker, Mazzetti and Schmitt, U.S. Investigates Deaths of 3 Soldiers in Jordan as Possible Terrorism, nytimes.com (11/16/2016) it was noted that “American officials said Wednesday that they were investigating the killing of three United States soldiers at a Jordanian air base this month as a possible terrorist attack and dismissed suggestions that the three had done anything to provoke the shooting…The three soldiers, all with Special Forces, were in Jordan on a training mission and were returning to the air base in the southern desert when a Jordanian soldier fired on them”.

Berlin, Germany

In Eddy, Germany Bans ‘True Religion’ Muslin Group and Raids Mosques, nytimes.com (11/15/2016) it was noted that “A German organization that calls itself the True Religion and that is known for distributing German-language copies of the Quran was outlawed on Tuesday, after authorities accused it of recruiting jihadists to fight in Iraq and Syria. Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, said the government had banned the True Religion organization, which is also known as Read (as in the instruction to read the Quran), because it acted as a ‘collecting pool’ for would-be Islamist fighters”.

Khuzdar, Pakistan

In Famous shrine in Pakistan bombed, killing at least 47, eturbonews.com (11/12/2016) it was noted that “A suicide bomber killed over 47 believers of Sufi Sant Baba Shah Nurani (Noorani) in a remote district of Khuzdar, the capital city of Balochistan in Pakistan”.

Moscow, Russia

In Russia foils planned terror attacks in Moscow and St. Petersburg, eturbonews.com (11/12/2016) it was noted that “Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it had foiled a terror plot to blow up targets in Moscow and St. Petersburg. ‘An operation conducted on November 12 in Moscow and St. Petersburg resulted in the arrests of 10 terrorists. They had a total of four powerful IEDs in their arsenals, which were seized’, the FSB said in a statement.

Small Print In Travel Brochures

In Elliott, On travel brochures, the small print makes a big difference, randolphcountyheraldtribue.com (10/26/2016) it was noted that “The National Trust Tours brochure for its upcoming Odyssey of Ancient Civilizations-a seven-night cruise through Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece-advertises an ‘all-inclusive’ itinerary. And, indeed, the $4,195 price for an ocean-view stateroom covers meals, tours and ‘enhanced’ services, such as a flight insurance policy. But a closer look at its catalogue suggests that one or two items are left out of the prominently displayed price. Taxes are an additional $440 per person ‘and are subject to change’, the brochure notes next to an asterisk below the rates. Purchasing the package also requires a $20 National Trust for Historic Preservation membership fee. And the $4,195 price, the most prominently displayed rate, is technically unreservable if you want to sign up now, since you missed a summer deadline to quality for a $1,000 per person early booking discount….An informal survey of tour brochures and interviews with tour operators indicates that National Trust Tours’ pricing is not out of the ordinary. Yet complaints about ‘gotha’ rates for similar packages are few…The federal government clamped down on airfare pricing with a 2012 ‘full fare’ price rule for airline tickets and it’s considering similar rules for hotel rates. But what about tours advertised through brochures? Turns out there’s little, if any, regulation”.

Airline Disclosure Rules

In Jansen, DOT: airlines must tell passengers more about punctuality, lost bags, usatoday.com (10/18/2016) it was noted that “Airline travelers will earn a lot more about which carriers are the most punctual, which mishandle the most luggage and which damage the most wheelchairs, under final rules that the Transportation Department unveiled Tuesday. The reporting rules are final, but take effect Jan. 1, 2016, to give airlines time to comply. In addition, the new rule will require online travel agents to disclose if they have any bias favoring one airline over another when travelers shop for tickets. The rule goes into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register. ‘The goal is to have a more robust consumer marketplace and create a more competitive environment and better outcomes for fliers’, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. ‘Today’s actions are a win for grovelers’. A dozen major airline, which each carry at least 1% of the 700 million annual travelers, now report flights that arrive at least 15 minutes later than scheduled. The goal of the new rule is to clarify the tardiness of more regional airlines that fly half of the flights…The larger airlines now report many bags are mishandled for total passengers. The new rule will change the standard of mishandled bags out of the total number of checked bags, to be more precise as travelers carry on more bags”.


Marriott-Starwood Loyalty Programs

In Glusac, How Loyalty Programs Will Work After Marriott-Starwood Deal, nytimes.com (10/12/2016) it was noted that “In late September (Marriott’s portfolio of hotels) grew to 30 hotel brands from 19 when Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts in a $13 billion deal that makes Marriott the largest hotel company in the world, managing over 5,700 hotels and 1.1 million rooms…For travelers, the biggest issue posed by the deal is the marriage of two different loyalty programs…Q. What does the acquisition mean for travelers who have Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points? Will the loyalty programs be merged? A. Minutes after closing this deal we announced this site, members.marriott.com. It will allow members of each respective program to link their accounts. If you have gold status in SPG, you are automatically matched with gold status in Marriott Rewards and all the benefits that come along with being an elite. You’ll be able to transfer points from Marriott Rewards to SPG and vice versa”.

Latest Developments In Drone Law

In Raysman & Brown, Latest Developments in the Law of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, New York Law Journal, October 7, 2016 it was noted that “Pursuant to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, on Aug. 29, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules authorizing the operators of commercial unmanned aircraft systems-commonly known as drones-took final effect. See 14 C.F.R. Part 107 et seq. In a related development, on Sept. 20, 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled a new federal policy designed to accelerate the development and utilization of drones. The FAA Part 107 Rules are similarly designed to expand drone use, as the agency concluded that it could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 jobs in the next decade. Another estimation has the commercial drone market reaching $120 billion by 2020. The Part 107 Rules institute wide-ranging reforms, including (1) eliminating the case-by-case waiver approval for the use of drones for commercial purposes; (2) requiring drones to fly below 400 feet and be operated by a pilot at least 16 years old who has passed a written test; (3) forbidding drones from flying over people and (4) banning drones from fling at night. Notably, the Part 107 Rules functionally eliminate any business opportunities for drone package delivery service, as the drones must remain within the pilot’s visual line of sight. That being said, Virginia Tech University will soon be delivering burritos on campus. Interest in use of drones is rampant, as more than 3,000 would-be drone pilots signed up on the first day of the licensing test became available”.

The Bermuda Triangle

In Mercante, Bermuda Triangle: Trick or Trap?, New York Law Journal, October 28, 2016, it was noted that “Admiralty law recognizes that seafaring is a dangerous occupation, and thus creates legal obligations of ship owners to safeguard the lives of seamen. Pursuant to the doctrine of ‘seaworthiness’,’[a] ship owner has a duty, at the commencement of a voyage, to furnish his employees with a vessel that is seaworthy in itself, and seaworthy as respects its appurtenances and appliances’. It to be ‘seaworthy, a vessel must not only be fit for the intended voyage, but also be properly equipped and under the control of a competent master. Admiralty law also recognizes the mysteries of the sea and that ships may be lost with no evidentiary trace. As a result, maritime law has developed a rule that if a vessel is lost in calm seas it is presumed to be unseaworthy/But can a vessel be found ‘unseaworthy’ if it sins under mysterious circumstances and is never found? Perhaps no seafaring route has produced more theory, speculation and mystery than the Bermuda Triangle, a triangle shaped like a line drawn from Bermuda to Miami to Puerto Rico, considered a haunted part of the sea claiming ships without a trace…One of the most recent losses in the triangle was that of the cargo ship the EL FARO, which sank as it encountered Hurricane Joaquin en route from Florida to Puerto Rico, one year ago this month. Instead of being gone forever, ships that go down in the Bermuda Triangle are not forgotten. Federal court, in admiralty, is where the mysterious disappearances and sinkings surface to eerily re-create the voyage and the cause of loss”.

Fishy Travel Search Results

In Klugel, here’s why your travel search results look fishy, startribune.com (95/2016) it was noted that “Famished after a two-leg, cross-country flight rife with delays and scarce on nutrition, I tapped open Google Maps on my phone ad scanned the area around by Los Angeles International Airport hotel for someplace interesting to eat. At the get-go, two white circles with fork-and-knife symbols appeared: McDonald’s and Denny’s/ Not for me. I typed in ‘restaurants’ and a few red circles with similar symbols appeared-like Carl’s Jr. and a hotel cocktail bar.

Pass…Ok, I wasn’t in Koreatown or Silver Lake, but was this best Los Angeles could do? Only after zooming in, block by block, did some tiny red dots appear, representing Thai, Somali and Greek spots. And the Melo Burger, an ‘old-school, 24/7 burger stand’. Bingo. But why had the chains popped up first? Isn’t mu smartphone supposed to know me better than that? Could they have paid for exposure? Had an algorithm gone awry? As travelers, we’re ever more dependent on apps and online services that show us what to eat or where to sleep. Yet we (or at least I) often forget those sites are public utilities that exist to male us happy but for-profit businesses trying to make a buck…Google doesn’t share many details about its search results, but it shares enough. ‘Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance and prominence’, reads a support page called ‘Improve your local ranking on Google’. Review scores play a role, but brands ‘that are familiar to many people are also likely to be prominent in, local search results’. Congratulations, McDonalds. Sorry, Banadir Somali Restaurant…But restaurants can influence their success with customers indirectly but paying for what Yelp calls an ‘enhanced profile’ and TripAdvisor a ‘business listing’. Such companies don’t appear higher; they appear better. In Yelps case, improvements include a photo slide show, the elimination of competitor ads from their profile page and the capacity to insert ‘call-to-action’ buttons-to print a coupon, for example”.”

Travel Law Article: The Eckhart Case

In the Eckhart case Court noted that “The complaint alleges that the defendants were negligent in failing to maintain their surveillance system and in providing an improperly secured safe. Sheraton Overseas Management Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., operated the hotel under a management agreement prior to the assignment of that agreement to a non-party Belgian corporation, Starwood E.A.M.E. License and Services Company, BVBA”.

Checking In

“Plaintiff and her traveling companion, non-party Carlos Kenda, check-in at the Sheraton Milan on August 17, 2011. They were provided with electronic key cards to Room 3170. Plaintiff left the room to make rental car arrangements. In her absence, the desk clerk who had checked them in arrived at the room and explained to Kenda that the keys previously given to them did not permit entry to the Executive Lounge. The clerk exchanged the original keys with new ones”.

The Disappearing Room Safe

“Plaintiff returned to the room, and placed her jewelry and other valuable property in the room safe, which was bolted to a shelf in the closet. Then she and Kenda left to dine in the hotel restaurant. When they returned to the room, they discovered that the luggage had been stolen and the entire safe had been removed. The hotel manager advised plaintiff that the hotel’s liability was limited under Italian law to 100 times the room rental rate. She was subsequently offered that amount (17,589 Euros) as a settlement, which she declined. No suspect was ever identified, and no arrest was made”.

Defendants’ Arguments

“Defendants argue that their liability is limited under either Italian (Civil Code 1783) or New York law (G.B.L. 200); that the in-room safe was adequate, as it was bolted to the shelf; and that there is no evidence that the surveillance system was not functioning-only that it did not record the incident. Defendants further maintain that there is no proof that the theft was perpetrated by an intruder, as opposed to a ‘fellow guest’ and that they provided reasonable security measures at the hotel. Lastly, they seek dismissal on the ground of forum non conveniens”.

Plaintiff’s Arguments

“Plaintiff does not dispute that Italian law applies, but contends that the defendants have failed to provide meaningful information regarding Italian law, and that under certain circumstances Italian law subjects the defendants to unlimited liability. Plaintiff asserts that there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that the perpetrator was an employee of the hotel. The further argue that a forum non conveniens dismissal has been waived”.

The Court’s Analysis

“While defendants cite the so-called New York ‘Innkeeper Statute’ (G.B.L. 200) they nevertheless request that the court apply Italian law. The defendants assert that under Italian Civil Code 1783, their liability is limited to 100 times the amount charged for the hotel room. The plaintiff agrees that Italian law applies, but argues that Italian Civil Code 1785 expands liability when the innkeeper is ‘responsible’. Neither side, however, has submitted to the court the text of Italian Civil Code 1783 et seq…or a certified translation of the ext of that legislative scheme”.

Establishing Applicable Law

“The construction of foreign law is a legal question that may be summarily determined when sufficient information based on documentary and other evidence is presented…Copies of statutes are therefore prima facie evidence of the law when contained in publications generally admitted as evidence of the existing law of the jurisdiction where it is in force. Expert affidavits interpreting the relevant legal provisions may also be considered in construing foreign law, if accompanied by sufficient documentary evidence…Under the present circumstances, defendants have failed to provide the court with ‘sufficient information’ to discern Italian law as it pertains to this case…It is not possible…absent competent proof of the foreign law to determine whether the defendants are liable for the loss”.

Forum Non Conveniens

“Dismissal of an action for forum non conveniens (another forum, typically, where the accident occurred is more convenient for the parties) (see Travel Law at Chapter 1 and Litigating International Torts in United States Courts at Chapter 10) may be precluded by laches and inexcusable delay…Here extensive discovery was completed, and a note of issue was filed on September 4, 2015. The action has been pending since March 3, 2013. No motion was made to dismiss on the basis of forum non conveniens under December 2, 2015, long after a note of issue had been filed”.

Justice Dickerson has been writing about travel law for 39 years including his annually updated law books, Travel Law, Law Journal Press (2016) and Litigating International Torts in U.S. Courts, Thomson Reuters WestLaw (2016), and over 400 legal articles many of which are available at nycourts.gov/courts/9jd/taxcertatd.shtml. Justice Dickerson is also the author of Class Actions: The Law of 50 States, Law Journal Press (2016). For additional travel law news and developments, especially in the member states of the EU, see IFTTA.org.

This article may not be reproduced without the permission of Thomas A. Dickerson.

Read many of Justice Dickerson’s articles here.

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