YHT REALTY CORP vs. CA G.R. No. 126780, February 17, 2005

Fact:

Private Respondent was an Australian businessman-philanthropist who stayed in a Suites owned by the Petitioner. The Private Respondent rented a safety deposit box with the said Suite. In Renting the box, he was asked to sign a waiver “Undertaking For The Use of Safety Deposit Box” which exonerating the Hotel, its Management and Employees from liability in case of loss of the item in the box. The companion of the respondent Tan, while the latter was sleeping with the assistance of the staff of the Hotel, was allowed to open the depositary box of Respondent. When the respondent opened the box, he Notice in a number of occasion that the Money he placed in the box was either missing or lacking. When he confronted the Management of the hotel, the latter advised that it was his companion Tan who opened the box.

The respondent went to the RTC and filed a complaint against the Petitioner. In the RTC, the Petitioner contented that the waiver signed by the Respondent exonerate them from liabilities. the RTC found the Management of the Hotel negligent for allowing a third person to open the box which the Respondent rented from them. The RTC found the Hotel and its staff liable for the actual and Moral damages that the Respondent lost.

Petitioner went to CA to contest the decision. However, the CA agreed with the decision of the RTC and dismissed the petition. Hence, the Petitioner elevated the issue to the SC.

Issue:

1. Whether the Petitioner Committed Gross Negligence for the stolen property of the Private Respondent?

2. Whether the “Undertaking For The Use of Safety Deposit Box” executed by the Private Respondent to exonerate the hotel prom liability is null and void?

Held:

1. The evidence reveals that two keys are required to open the safety deposit boxes of Tropicana. One key is assigned to the guest while the other remains in the possession of the management. If the guest desires to open his safety deposit box, he must request the management for the other key to open the same. In other words, the guest alone cannot open the safety deposit box without the assistance of the management or its employees. With more reason that access to the safety deposit box should be denied if the one requesting for the opening of the safety deposit box is a stranger. Thus, in case of loss of any item deposited in the safety deposit box, it is inevitable to conclude that the management had at least a hand in the consummation of the taking, unless the reason for the loss is force majeure. Under Article 1170 of the New Civil Code, those who, in the performance of their obligations, are guilty of negligence, are liable for damages. As to who shall bear the burden of paying damages, Article 2180, paragraph (4) of the same Code provides that the owners and managers of an establishment or enterprise are likewise responsible for damages caused by their employees in the service of the branches in which the latter are employed or on the occasion of their functions. Also, this Court has ruled that if an employee is found negligent, it is presumed that the employer was negligent in selecting and/or supervising him for it is hard for the victim to prove the negligence of such employer. Thus, given the fact that the loss of McLoughlin’s money was consummated through the negligence of Tropicana’s employees in allowing Tan to open the safety deposit box without the guest’s consent, both the assisting employees and YHT Realty Corporation itself, as owner and operator of Tropicana, should be held solidarily liable pursuant to Article 2193.

2. Yes, 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 as set forth in Articles 1998 to 2001 is suppressed or diminished shall be void.Article 2003 was incorporated in the New Civil Code as an expression of public policy precisely to apply to situations such as that presented in this case. The hotel business like the common carrier’s business is imbued with public interest. Catering to the public, hotelkeepers are bound to provide not only lodging for hotel guests and security to their persons and belongings. The twin duty constitutes the essence of the business. The law in turn does not allow such duty to the public to be negated or diluted by any contrary stipulation in so-called “undertakings” that ordinarily appear in prepared forms imposed by hotel keepers on guests for their signature.Paragraphs (2) and (4) of the “undertaking” manifestly contravene Article 2003 of the New Civil Code for they allow Tropicana to be released from liability arising from any loss in the contents and/or use of the safety deposit box for any cause whatsoever. Evidently, the undertaking was intended to bar any claim against Tropicana for any loss of the contents of the safety deposit box whether or not negligence was incurred by Tropicana or its employees. The New Civil Code is explicit that the responsibility of the hotel-keeper 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. It is the loss through force majeure that may spare the hotel-keeper from liability. In the case at bar, there is no showing that the act of the thief or robber was done with the use of arms or through an irresistible force to qualify the same as force majeure.

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