After Coon Rapids, Minn., hotel room floods, guest feels soakedUnder Minnesota law, the burden is on the traveler. Be careful what you bring with you on the road, because the innkeeper might not have to pay for it if it's gone. State law caps a hotel's liability for a guest's personal property losses at $1,000, unless the loss is the hotel's fault.
By: James Eli Shiffer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
On a Saturday night last month, Scott Williams drove to his extended-stay motel in Coon Rapids, Minn., and found the parking lot blocked by fire engines. By the time Williams could enter his second-floor room, he found motel workers inside. He remembers most vividly what was on the floor: a 3-inch flood.
"My whole room was underwater," Williams said.
A kitchen fire directly above his room triggered the sprinkler system. Williams' clothing, groceries, papers and everything else were a soggy mess. With no vacancies, the InTown Suites agreed to put him up at another motel for the night. He also got reimbursed $15 for washing his clothes.
But Williams said the InTown Suites staff refused to compensate him for his ruined possessions. His efforts to go up the chain went nowhere until the Star Tribune's Whistleblower contacted corporate headquarters on his behalf.
"Every time we have a fire issue like this, we do our best to make everyone whole," said Collier Daily, director of marketing and communications for InTown Suites. "This is the first that we've been made aware of it."
Under state law, the burden is on the traveler. Be careful what you bring with you on the road, because the innkeeper might not have to pay for it if it's gone. State law caps a hotel's liability for a guest's personal property losses at $1,000, unless the loss is the hotel's fault. Under Williams' room agreement, the fine print specifies: "Management is not responsible for damage or theft of any personal property brought on premises."
Sitting in his replacement room at the InTown Suites a few days before checking out, Williams said it's the motel's response that irks him. "They didn't lift a finger, Williams said. "Then they tried to brush me under the rug."
Williams, 48, works as a mover during the summers in Minnesota. In the fall, he moves to Texas to work on a cotton farm. He recently broke up with his girlfriend and moved out of his apartment. In August, he checked into Room 226 at the InTown Suites on Coon Rapids Boulevard.
The hotel chain based in a suburb of Atlanta, bills itself as the "low cost leader in extended stay lodging" with 138 locations nationwide. Williams planned to stay in his $230-per-week efficiency unit until he boarded a southbound Greyhound on Sept. 30.
On the night of Sept. 25, Williams went out to eat with a friend. The guests in Room 326 cooked dinner in the room's tiny kitchen. A pot caught fire. They brought it into the bathroom to put it out, but managed to ignite an article of clothing.
The sprinklers doused the flames before the fire engines arrived. But the water caused its own havoc.
When Williams came back to Room 226, water was still dripping from the ceiling. He said he was told to take everything out of his refrigerator. He put it in his car. The food quickly spoiled. It took two hours before the motel authorized paying for Williams to stay in a nearby Super 8.
His request for compensation, beyond the $15 he spent in the laundry machines, was refused, he said.
Whistleblower's inquiry to the motel was referred to corporate headquarters. Daily, the marketing director, said the company's internal report on Williams' situation indicated "the guest was happy with the resolution."
Last week, Williams said he faxed a claim to InTown Suites corporate headquarters for $173 for lost clothing, food and personal items. Daily warned that future guests shouldn't expect InTown Suites to be a soft touch when it comes paying for lost possessions.
"We're certainly not in the insurance business," he said.
Modern laws about innkeepers' liability for personal property of guests date back to the Middle Ages, when travelers stole from each other in the proverbial room above the inn, according to Kirby D. Payne, a longtime hotel manager who worked in the Twin Cities for 20 years.
"We don't know what people carry into the property," said Payne, who now lives in Rhode Island. With the law definitively not on their side, guests don't often pursue property claims against hotels, he said. But travelers may already be covered: homeowner's insurance policies often cover personal property outside the house.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.