Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, No. 67-522, in case of H. George Buck v. Moe Henry Hankin et al.
Joseph P. Phelps, Jr., for appellants.
George C. Corson, Jr., with him Albert C. Oehrle, Jr., for appellee.
Wright, P. J., Watkins, Montgomery, Jacobs, Hoffman, Spaulding, and Cercone, JJ. Opinion by Cercone, J.
[ 217 Pa. Super. Page 264]
Plaintiff, H. George Buck, was a paying guest of the defendant George Washington Motor Lodge on October 22, 1965, when, at sometime after midnight, while he was in bed in the room assigned him, he was awakened by the noise of an intruder in his room. Plaintiff was instructed to remain still and to turn his back while he, the night prowler, pulled the phone from the wall and escaped with plaintiff's cash, a ring and watch. A screen on the window nearest the door was found to have been pried open and apparently had provided the means of the thief's ingress.
Plaintiff instituted a suit in trespass against the Motor Lodge for the total amount of $2,098, alleging that a ring valued at $1,955, a watch of $45 and cash of $98 were taken.
After Interrogatories filed by plaintiff, to which defendant filed Answers, and after plaintiff's deposition, plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure No. 1035(b),*fn1
[ 217 Pa. Super. Page 265]
which motion was granted by the court en banc. This appeal by the defendant Motor Lodge from the Summary Judgment followed.
The questions presented to us are: (1) whether or not the Motor Lodge can be held liable for plaintiff's loss under the common law; (2) whether or not defendant's compliance with the Act of June 12, 1913, P. L. 481, § 1, as amended, 37 P.S. § 61, absolves it of common law liability; and (3) whether or not there are any factual issues which defendant is entitled to have determined by a jury in the event defendant is subject to common law liability.
[ 217 Pa. Super. Page 266]
Is the Motor Lodge liable under the common law? A reading of the leading cases on the subject of an innkeeper's common law liability reveal that it was regarded as strict and absolute, not based on negligence. As early as 1869, our Supreme Court in Houser v. Tully, 62 Pa. 92 (1869) reasoned: "The liability of an innkeeper arises from the nature of his employment. He holds out a general invitation to travellers to come to his house, and he receives a reward for his hospitality. The law, in return, imposes on him corresponding duties, one of which is, to protect the property of those whom he receives as guests. Clute v. Wiggins, 14 John. 175." A few years later, in Walsh v. Porterfield, 87 Pa. 376 (1878), the Court quoted approvingly the following charge of the lower court: "At common law a hotelkeeper or innkeeper was liable at all events for the goods and baggage of his guests. He held himself out as an innkeeper, and was required by law to receive all persons coming and desiring lodgings, and upon him was imposed the duty of strict care of the property of his guests whilst in his hotel. That law is Page 266} the same today as it was years ago, except where it has been modified by our Acts of Assembly. . . . It was in fact insuring, as it were, the safety of the property of guests, and it was immaterial (if a loss occurred or property was stolen whilst the guest was in the hotel) by whom it was stolen, unless it was by the guest's own servant or a fellow guest of the party who was robbed or, the negligence of the guest; and however vigilant the landlord might have been he was responsible to the party losing the property. That was the common-law liability. He was practically an ...