Hotel not shielded from liability in stolen car case

Jessica M. Karmasek Jun. 9, 2011, 2:00pm

CARSON CITY, Nev. (Legal Newsline) - The Nevada Supreme Court ruled last week that a section of state code does not shield a hotel from liability arising out of the theft of and damage to a guest's car.

The Court, in its opinion filed June 2, reversed and remanded the decision of the Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County.

In 2006, appellant Marcos Arguello drove his vehicle to respondent Sunset Station Inc., d.b.a. Sunset Station Hotel & Casino, gave his keys to a valet attendant and received a claim ticket for his vehicle.

A few hours later, when Arguello went to get his vehicle, it was determined that an unknown party had stolen it from the valet parking lot. The vehicle was recovered the following day in a stripped condition.

Arguello submitted a claim for the loss of his vehicle to his insurer, Farmer's Insurance, and Farmer's issued a check to Arguello in the amount of $20,434.98.

Arguello then filed a lawsuit in district court against Sunset Station, alleging negligence and breach of a bailment contract. He sought damages exceeding $10,000 for, among other things, the loss of the use of his vehicle and the cost of customizations made to the vehicle.

Sunset Station moved for summary judgment, arguing that NRS 651.010 shielded it from liability for the theft of Arguello's vehicle and that Arguello did not have standing to sue because Farmer's became subrogated to the rights of Arguello when it issued a check for his insurance claim.

NRS 651.010(1) limits the liability of hotels for "the theft, loss, damage or destruction of any property brought by a patron upon the premises or left in a motor vehicle upon the premises... in the absence of gross neglect by the owner or keeper" of the hotel.

The district court determined that NRS 651.010(1) shielded Sunset Station from liability arising out of the theft of Arguello's vehicle and entered summary judgment in favor of Sunset Station. An appeal to the state's high court followed.

The Court, in its per curiam opinion, said the statute cannot be read to extend to motor vehicles because doing so would require the Court to ignore the Legislature's inclusion of the phrase "or left in a motor vehicle upon the premises."

The Court said reading it as such "absurdly limits" the scope of the statute.

"If the Legislature intended NRS 651.010(1) to protect innkeepers from civil liability for damage to motor vehicles, it would not have needed to include the phrase 'or left in a motor vehicle upon the premises' because the preceding phrase, 'any property brought by a patron upon the premises,' would necessarily have included motor vehicles," it wrote.

"Moreover, interpreting NRS 651.010(1) to extend to motor vehicles would lead to the illogical conclusion that a motor vehicle is among the type of property that could be 'left in a motor vehicle.' In other words, the inclusion of the language 'or left in a motor vehicle upon the premises' shows that the Legislature neither contemplated nor intended for the statute to apply to the theft of or damage to motor vehicles."

The Court concluded that Arguello is a "real party in interest" with standing to sue Sunset Station because his insurer only partially compensated him for his claimed losses.

The district court, the Court determined, erred in granting Sunset Station summary judgment.

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