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  • Kristina Kiik, Esq.

The Inn Keeper and the iPhone

You operate and manage a small hotel next to a convention center in large city. The hotel’s excellent location and service attract businessmen and women from all around the country. You maintain a comfortable, hospitable environment, and your staff goes above and beyond in looking out for your guests. For example, the bellmen know to remind travelers to look for chargers and mobile devices prior to checking out because they can be easily overlooked. But inevitably, items go missing or are lost. A weary road warrior leaves his laptop by the bed as he scrambles to make his flight home. A salesmen celebrates a promotion a little too much at the lobby bar and doesn’t’ remember leaving his Blackberry along with his dignity. And an executive takes off her AppleWatch at the gym, but forgets it in her locker while packing up her belongings.

To what extent are you liable for the laptop, the Blackberry, and the AppleWatch, and the sensitive information contained on each device?

Many hotels are not concerned about the proper disposal of personal electronic devices because they believe certain “Inn Keepers” laws protect them. To an extent, this is true. Hotels are limited in their liability for a guest’s personal belongings. Lost devices are usually stored for thirty to sixty days. Furthermore, statutes have been enacted to limit all liability for loss as long as the hotel complies with the law, and damages in these situations are typically capped between $250 and $2,000 per incident, depending on the state.

But Inn Keepers’ laws do not protect against negligence by the hotel or its staff. Because of this added risk, it is imperative that members of the hospitality industry reevaluate their methods of disposing electronics and instead implement a better, more secure way to handle these handheld or mobile devices.

Improperly disposing of a device – the laptop, the Blackberry, and the AppleWatch – that is known to contain personal information could be considered negligence. Take for example the old TJ Hooper case. The TJ Hooper was a tugboat that had three barges in charges when it got caught up in a strong storm. All three barges sank along with their cargo. The tugboat and barge companies were sued, and at trial, the plaintiffs argued that had the captain of the TJ Hooper used a wireless radio, then he would have avoided the storm and the cargo would have been saved. These types of radios were not required by law and the industry did not use them in practice. Nevertheless, the court found in favor of the plaintiffs that some precautions are so essential that “even their universal disregard will not excuse their omission.”

Today, it is widely known that personal devices must be handled in a secure manner, and while not required by law, secure disposal of lost items is imperative. An employee throwing the laptop in the trash, giving the Blackberry to the patron who found it at the bar, or selling the AppleWatch can be considered negligent behavior subject to liability and exposure for the hotel.

There is a better way to handle mobile devices left to the care of the Inn Keeper. First, hold found property for a period of time recommended by your company or a local attorney familiar with the laws in your state Sixty days should be a minimum length for most found property.

Second, dispose of property in a fair, consistent manner and in accordance with written procedures if the original owner does not come forward. 911 Cell Phone Bank had developed a disposal and data removal process that sets the industry’s standard. We use a combination of manufacturers and industry software tools to ensure each device, whether cell phone, smartphone, tablet or laptop, memory card, or camera has been completely data sanitized and data has been deleted. In addition we check for data erasure at least three times during processing.

Your security is our primary goal. Please contact us and let’s develop a program along with your legal counsel to ensure your liability is minimized when it comes handling lost handheld and mobile devices.

Kristina Kiik is a Commercial Litigation attorney in Richardson Texas. Before opening her own practice, Kristina was a senior judicial law clerk to the Honorable W. Royal Ferguson, Jr., in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Her unique experience as a lawyer, judicial law clerk, and the youngest presidential elector in U.S. history, enables her to provide outstanding research, writing, briefs, articles, and opinion pieces. -

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