An Australian businessman-philanthropist regularly came to Manila for business. A good friend referred him to an apartment hotel and was personally introduced to the manager and given preferential treatment.
Quite happy with the service, he became a loyal customer every time he was in Manila.
Whenever the Australian stayed in the hotel, he rented a safety deposit box (SDB). Standard protocol required that the SDB could only be opened when two keys were used simultaneously. One was kept by the Australian and the other remained with the management of the hotel.
While the Australian was in Manila for business, he left for a short Hong Kong trip. He always kept his money in the SDB. Before leaving for Hong Kong, he retrieved two money envelopes containing US$5,000.00, and AUS$10,000.00, respectively. Upon checking his money in Hong Kong, he found US$2,000.00 missing from his envelope. Unsure of his spending, he blamed the loss on his inadvertence.
Shortly after his Hong Kong trip, he returned to Australia and took the remaining money envelope and valuables left in the SDB with him. Back in Australia, he discovered that his money was short of US$5,000.00 and was missing jewelry he had bought in Hong Kong and stored in the SDB.
The following year, the Australian was back in Manila and stayed at the same hotel. On this trip, he lost two US$2,000.00 and AUS$4,500.00, both kept in the SDB of the hotel. He immediately confronted the hotel staff who admitted that his friend had opened the safety deposit box on several occasions. The friend admitted that she took the key from him while he was sleeping.
Although the friend agreed to repay the amount of money stolen, the Australian also wanted the hotel to assume responsibility for the loss he incurred. The hotel, however, refused to accept responsibility because the Australian signed a waiver releasing the hotel “from any liability arising from any loss in the contents and/or use of the said deposit box for any cause whatsoever.”
Upon filing a case, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) and Court of Appeals (CA) found that the hotel acted with gross negligence in the performance and exercise of its duties and obligations as innkeepers and was liable for the losses incurred. Both Courts also invalidated the waiver since the stipulations were contrary to Article 2003 of the Civil Code and against public policy-
Art. 2003. The hotel-keeper cannot free himself from responsibility by posting notices to the effect that he is not liable for the articles brought by the guest. Any stipulation between the hotel-keeper and the guest whereby the responsibility of the former . . . is suppressed or diminished shall be void.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the RTC and CA. It ruled that the hotel business is imbued with public interest, which demands that hotelkeepers are bound to provide not only lodging for hotel guests but also security to their persons and belongings. The law does not allow such duty to the public to be negated or diluted by any contrary stipulation that ordinarily appear in prepared forms imposed by hotel keepers on guests for their signature.
Moreover, the Civil Code provides that the responsibility of hotel-keepers shall extend to loss of, or injury to, the personal property of the guests even if caused by servants, or employees of the keepers of hotels or inns as well as by strangers, except as it may proceed from any force majeure (YHT Realty Corporation, G.R. No. 126780, 17 February 2005, J. Tinga).