OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BELL, June 27, 1955:
These are appeals from final judgments entered on findings of the lower Court awarding compensatory and punitive damages to the five plaintiffs in varying amounts.
In the early morning of February 29, 1952 a fire destroyed the Clinton Hotel in Philadelphia. Plaintiffs, guests residing at the Hotel at the time of the fire, instituted these trespass actions to recover the
The trial Judge, sitting without a jury, found, inter alia, that two of the defendants, namely, Samuel Elgart and Clinton Management, Inc., were negligent and that such negligence was the proximate cause of the fire; and concluded that the Act of June 12, 1913, P.L. 481, 37 PS § 61 et seq., did not preclude a recovery for such losses. Each defendant seeks a judgment non obstante veredicto.
The case turns on the interpretation of the Act of 1913. Under Section 1 an innkeeper who provides (specified) safe deposit facilities for the custody of money, bank notes, jewelry, articles of gold and silver manufacture, precious stones, personal ornaments, railroad mileage books or tickets, negotiable or valuable papers, and bullion, and posts copies of the section in ten conspicuous places in the hotel shall not be liable for the loss of such valuables unless the innkeeper has refused to accept them from the guests for safe deposit and to give a receipt therefor. The section also limits the innkeeper's liability for the enumerated classes of property to $300., even if he receives them for safekeeping.
Section 2 permits an innkeeper to make any special arrangements in writing with his guests covering any property received "for deposit in such safe or vault", but provides he may not relieve himself of liability for any loss of the above-enumerated articles where loss results from his own theft or negligence or that of his servants.
Section 3 imposes a duty on guests to demand a receipt upon delivering to the proprietor or his servants
Section 4 in pertinent part reads as follows: "The liability of the keeper of any inn or hotel, whether individual, partnership, or corporation, for loss of or injury to personal property placed by his guest under his care, other than that described in the preceding sections, shall be that of a depository for hire, except that in case such loss or injury is caused by fire, not intentionally produced by the hotel proprietor or innkeeper or his servants, such hotel proprietor or innkeeper shall not be liable: . . ."
Section 1 obviously has no application to the instant case for the reason that plaintiffs' claims do not include any of the enumerated classes of property, i.e., money, bank notes, jewelry, etc., which were delivered to the proprietor to be placed in his safe deposit box or vault. Section 2 is likewise inapplicable since there was no special arrangement in writing covering property received "for deposit in such safe or vault". Section 3 is likewise inapplicable inasmuch as the property for which claims are now being made was admittedly located in the plaintiffs' rooms at the time of the fire, and not delivered to the proprietor "for safekeeping (elsewhere than in the room assigned to such guest)."
Section 4 as thus construed is not as harsh as at first blush appears. The first three sections of the Act protect a guest by providing for the safekeeping by the innkeeper of money, jewelry, and other valuables received for deposit in a safe or vault, and of baggage and other articles of property "(elsewhere than in the room assigned to such guest)."
The legislature, whether wisely or unwisely, clearly exempted a hotel proprietor for loss of personal property which is kept in a guest's room and is destroyed by an "unintentional" fire, perhaps on the theory that the loss to the hotel keeper from such a fire was sufficient punishment.
In a supplemental brief filed prior to the reargument of these appeals, the appellees contend for the
We have examined all the other contentions made by the appellants and appellees but deem further discussion unnecessary.
Judgments reversed, and here entered for the respective defendants non obstante veredicto.
Mr. Justice JONES and Mr. Justice CHIDSEY dissent.