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San Francisco tourist sues Marriott after hotel gave guest’s luggage to suspected criminal

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — ABC7 News’ I-Team is investigating what attorneys say is a loophole in the law that allows hotels statewide to avoid paying actual damages to guests.

Imagine you booked a hotel, but the hotel accidentally gave all of your belongings to a suspected criminal without checking for a valid ID. It happened in San Francisco to Bob Sabouni.

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According to the court judgment, Sabouni lost $8,390.88 of his property. He sued the San Francisco Marriott Marquis and won. In a surprise move, Marriott successfully appealed the case. But, the state Superior Court judge overseeing the case says it was done unfairly.

Here’s how it happened.

Bob’s story

What was supposed to be a post-lockdown summer getaway in San Francisco turned into a legal nightmare for Bob Sabouni.

In June 2021, Sabouni and his friends checked into the San Francisco Marriott Marquis before heading to a Giants game. Sabouni says her room wasn’t ready so the hotel offered to hold her luggage.

“Then we went to the game and had a great time. The Giants won!” said Sabouni.

But later in the night, Sabouni came back to a big defeat.

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“Everyone’s stuff was there except mine,” he said.

Sabouni says her luggage – which included a Briggs & Riley wheeled bag, a Tumi leather backpack, an iPad Pro, a MacBook Pro, a 4TB hard drive with her social security number and seven years of tax documents – were not found.

“The next morning I spoke to the manager who told me he was investigating and found out he had given my stuff to someone else,” Sabouni said.

According to the court ruling, hotel surveillance footage later that afternoon shows a man entered the Marriott claiming he had checked his bag but had lost his cash check. complaint.

“Remarkably the Marriott let the guy into the back room, he pointed at my bags and said they’re mine…the guy said, is there a way to get it? do you have any tickets? Do you have ID? And the guy said I didn’t have any of that, but he just mentioned there was a computer in that bag.” said Sabouni.

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“Of course there was and they just handed over my stuff.”

Sabouni says that in the weeks that followed, the hotel was unwilling to compensate him for his losses unless he provided receipts for each item. Frustrated with the process, Sabouni then sued Marriott in small claims court and won.

“The judge awarded us $5,000, which was a far cry from the nearly $9,000 I lost, but you know I was happy,” Sabouni said.

But the story does not end there.

Legal battle

Marriott later appealed the case on the grounds of a law enacted in 1872 — also known as the Innkeeper’s Statute — that limits a hotel’s liability for guests’ belongings to $1,000. Marriott won the appeal, but not evenly according to San Francisco Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ross, who wrote:

“This is one of the rare cases where the law does not allow the court to obtain a fair result.”

According to the court judgment, Ross pointed to the fact that the law is obsolete, saying in part that this law “has not been revised to correspond to the current value of luggage, clothing, and more particularly computer equipment and its data.”

“Prices have increased tremendously since this law was first enacted,” said Jim Wilcox, professor of economics at UC Berkeley School of Business.

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Wilcox said prices for goods and services have risen 20 to 25 times since this law was first enacted in 1872. Yet in 2022, California hotels are liable for items up to $1,000 – at most.

“Compared to when the law was first enacted, $1,000 would then be the equivalent in terms of actual purchasing power, which would require a cap of about $25,000,” Wilcox said.

Judge Ross wrote in the court ruling: “One would expect Marriott to recognize the aberration and, in the interests of the customer relationship, pay the judgment. Instead, Marriott appealed.”

ABC7 News’ I-Team contacted the Marriott for an on-camera interview, but hotel management declined to speak or comment.

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Sabouni valued his stolen items at nearly $8,400. But according to Marriott’s trial brief, the hotel was only legally liable for $500, due to this law.

“It has to modernize over time, while the physical computer may be worth x dollars, what’s in it is worth much more,” said Relani Belous, founder of law firm Belous. “You have an industry that has a free get out of jail card.”

The status of the innkeeper has not changed for 42 years – leaving consumers like Sabouni to pay the price.

“For me, it’s about holding them accountable for customer safety and not giving them that shield,” Sabouni said.

After the appeal, the court ordered Marriott to pay Sabouni $1,553 for an error made by its own staff. Meanwhile, Sabouni told I-Team that he spent more than $10,000 trying to fight the case.

The question now is: is it time for the law to change?

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