The liability of hotels
The articles of the Civil Code pertaining to the contract of deposit in particular outline the liability of hoteliers towards their customers.
Article 1952 states that hoteliers “are responsible, as custodians, for clothing, luggage and miscellaneous objects brought into their establishment by travelers staying with them”.
Article 1953 adds that they “are liable for theft or damage to these items, whether the theft was committed or the damage was caused by their employees, or by third parties coming and going in the hotel. This liability is unlimited, notwithstanding any clause to the contrary, in the event of theft or damage to objects of any kind deposited in their hands…”.
Finally, article 1954 provides that “…hoteliers are responsible for objects left in vehicles parked on the premises of which they have private use…”.
These articles therefore constitute the body of rules that defines what is commonly referred to as “hotel liability”, and which is detailed below.
Scope limited to hotels
As a reminder, only classified hotels can claim to be “tourist hotels”, as defined in article D.311-4 of the French Tourism Code.
One might wonder, for example, whether ” Tourism Residences ” offering fully-equipped apartments for rent, as defined in article D.321-1 of the Code du Tourisme, and which often offer so-called “hotel” services, could fall within the scope of the aforementioned legislation.
This would appear not to be the case, as the establishment cannot claim to be a hotel when in fact it is not, and thus incur liability that does not derive from its actual classification.
Tourism residences may not adopt a name other than that resulting from their classification, no matter what additional services or benefits they may offer, whether hotel-like or not, which are ultimately seen as nothing more than marketing gimmicks for commercial purposes.
The supervisory authorities (Directions départementales de la protection des populations (DDPP) and Directions départementales de la cohésion sociale et de la protection des populations (DDCSPP), which mainly monitor business-consumer relations) are very rigorous on this point, to ensure that consumers are not misled by a more or less misleading appellation that does not correspond to the classification obtained.
This is often the case with the commercial use of the term “hotel residence”, which has no regulatory basis and therefore no legal existence, since the establishment is neither classified as a tourist hotel nor a tourist residence. However, its use can be misleading from the customer’s point of view, leading them to believe that it is a hotel, when in fact it is not.
In view of this, it is appropriate to consider that the liability provided for in the Civil Code concerning hotels applies only to “tourist hotels”, and not to other establishments that do not have this classification.
Contours of liability: a presumption of liability on the part of the hotelier
The presumption of liability applies only to “tourist hotels” as such, as demonstrated above.
The hotelier must provide his guests with the agreed facilities and services, in line with the classification and category of the establishment.
He is bound not only by the performance of the contract, but also by ancillary obligations such as safety, as developed by jurisprudence in accordance with the theory of “forcing” the contract, referring to a phenomenon of amplification of the contractual content to the benefit of the customer or consumer.
In this way, the hotelier is frequently subject to an extended obligation of safety towards both guests and their property.
Articles 1953 and 1954 of the Civil Code refer respectively to the presumption of liability of hoteliers for theft or damage caused to (i) luggage, clothing and other objects brought into the establishment by the customer, and (ii) objects left in vehicles parked on the premises of which the hotelier has private use.
The customer does not need to prove the hotelier’s fault in order to be compensated.
Nature of the hotelier’s contractual obligation
1. In the event of personal injury
The hotelier is subject to a contractual obligation of means, not of result, with regard to the safety of his customers.
It is therefore up to the customer who has suffered a bodily injury to prove that the loss resulted from the hotelier’s failure to meet his obligation, by reference to the defective layout of the premises or the defective nature of the equipment provided.
2. Damage to property
With regard to the customer’s property, the hotelier is bound by a safety obligation until the customer leaves the hotel. However, the hotelier may be exempted, in whole or in part, from liability in the event of fault on the part of the guest.
The hotelier’s liability is legally assessed from the point of view of the deposit of the guest’s belongings when the rented rooms are occupied. In this context, the hotelier is bound by an obligation of result, which can only be waived in exceptional circumstances.
The hotelier’s liability is unlimited, as stated in article 1953 of the French Civil Code, in the event of fault on his part or that of a person for whom he is responsible.
Naturally, the customer is exposed to a difficulty of proof, since it is up to him to prove the presence in the hotel of the objects he claims to have damaged or lost.
While clauses limiting liability are generally deemed to be unwritten, those imposing cautionary instructions on the customer are accepted, so that the hotelier may be relieved of liability if he can prove that they were brought to the customer’s attention and that he deliberately did not follow them.
This is why, for example, private safes installed in hotel rooms for the use of guests have become increasingly popular, enabling hoteliers to avoid liability in the event of theft or loss of guests’ valuables, once they have been advised to use them to secure their belongings. Any failure on the part of guests to make use of the devices offered by the hoteliers could then be considered as a fault on the part of the guest, thereby exonerating the hotelier.
3. Damage to vehicles parked on the premises
Stolen or damaged vehicles are treated in the same way as items brought into the hotel, provided that they are parked in a parking lot made available to guests by the hotelier, which means that the hotelier cannot be held liable if the guest’s vehicle is parked outside the designated area, on the public highway for example.
The other condition imposed by article 1954 of the French Civil Code is that the parking lot concerned and made available must be privatized by the hotelier.
The security requirements for the site, for which the hotelier is responsible, do not therefore apply to an area that is partly open to the public and not exclusively reserved for hotel guests, with a secure, fully fenced-in area, for example.
In any case, if you would like to obtain a legal opinion specific to your case, or to obtain further information on the obligations that hoteliers are exposed to with regard to their customers, our lawyers are at your disposal to answer any questions you may have and to advise you.
Our meetings can be held in person or by videoconference. You can make an appointment directly online at www.agn-avocats.com.
AGN AVOCATS – Tourism Law Department
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