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Travel Law

Defective key system and loss of jewelry at a hotel: What are your legal rights?

Hon. Thomas A. Dickerson  Jun 06, 2016

In this week’s article we examine the case of McReynolds v. RIU Resorts And Hotels, S.A., 2016 Neb. LEXIS 57 (Neb. Sup. 2016) in which a guest sued “the companies that arranged her vacation, claiming that they should have warned her the hotel’s key system did not meet industry standards and they breached their contractual duty to provide a safe hotel room for the loss of jewelry from a safe in her hotel room”. Finding, in part, that the defendant “did not owe a duty to warn McReynolds about the obvious defect of the key system”, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to defendants.

Terror Targets Update


In Steinmetz, Egypt Air crash: Bomb explosion on board, (5/26/2016) it was noted that “Today Egyptian forensic official(s) in Cairo say they had looked at human remains retrieved from the Egypt Air Flight 804 that crashed in the Mediterranean (and) are now convinced an explosion on board the plane triggered the fire alarm. This was most likely caused by a bomb on board...’There isn’t even a whole body part, like an arm or a head’ said the official...’The logical explanation is that it was an explosion’”.

Tourist Boat On Fire

In Steinmetz, Tourist boat caught fire 10 miles off Great Barrier Reef, (5/11/2016) it was noted that “According to Australian media reports, no injuries were reported after a tourist boat, carrying 42 visitors caught on fire on the Great Barrier Reef...It happened 10 nautical miles off the Queensland’s coast”.

Crimean Sand Theft

In Crimean tourist beaches ribbed of sand ‘in broad daylight’, (5/18/2016) it was noted that “Officials in Crimea are warning people to stop stealing sand from tourist beaches, or else face a prison sentence. The peninsula’s beaches are being targeted by people who remove the sand for use as free building material”.

Russian Cruise Ship

In Russia to build its first cruise ship since the 1950s, (5/17/2016) it was noted that “The president of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) has announced plans to build the country’s first cruise liner since the will begin next year...Since Turkey and Egypt became off-limits for Russian tourists, there has been an approximately 800 percent hike in bookings for cruise liners inside the country...The most popular destinations are river cruises from Moscow to St. Petersburg and Kazan”.

Missing Cruise Passenger

In Carnival cruise ship passenger reported missing in the Gulf of Mexico, (5/14/2016) it was noted that “The 33-year-old female passenger, was reported missing from the Liberty cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday by her traveling companions, and Carnival has begun a ship-wide search”.

Chinese Police Officers In Italy

In Yardley, For Chinese Police Officers, Light Duty on Tourist Patrol in Italy, (5/12/2016) it was noted that “In his dark-uniform and cap, Officer Pang is a top supervisor in one of China’s biggest police departments, in the southern metropolis of Guandzhon. But for two weeks, he and three other Chinese police officers are in Italy with strict orders: to protect Chinese tourists. That is, even if it isn’t completely clear how four Chinese cops divided between Rome and Milan can make a difference. Or what the tourists need to be protected from”.

Don’t Breathe So Much, Please

In UN: Over 80 percent of world’s urban residents breathe poor quality air, (5/13/2016) it was noted that “More than 80 percent of the world’s city dwellers breathe poor quality air, increasing their risk of lung cancer and other life-threatening diseases, a new World Health Organization (WHO) report warned Thursday. Urban residents in poor countries are by far the worst affected, WHO said, noting that nearly every city (98 percent) in low-and-middle-income countries has air that fails to meet the UN body’s standards”.

Toxic Fire In Spain

In Massive toxic fire rages south of Madrid, thousands evacuated, (5/13/2016) it was noted that “Palls of dense toxic smoke caused by a massive fire at a vast tire dump south of the Spanish capital Madrid made thousands of people evacuate the nearby areas. The raging fire was ignited in the early hours of Friday at a tire graveyard, where about five million old tires were dumped”.

Anniversary Of Amtrak 188 Crash

In Fitzsimmons & Keller, Why an Amtrak Train Derailed in Philadelphia, (5/17/2016) it was noted that the “Train was going twice the speed limit. The train derailed along a curved stretch of track...traveling about 106 miles an hour when the engineer applied the brakes, just moments before the derailment. The speed limit on that stretch was 50 m.p.h....The investigation focused on (the engineer) Mr. Bostian who said he had gaps in his memory but remembered growing worried shortly before the derailment when he heard that the windshield of a nearby...train had been hit by an object...At the time of the crash...the area where the derailment...took place was not equipped with positive train control. In December, Amtrak said the technology had been installed on all the tracks it owns between Washington and New York City”.

Uber In Africa

In Uber announces plans for Uganda as it pushes its way through Africa, (5/17/2016) it was noted that “News just in confirms that UBER is, following the successful launch in Nairobi and Mombasa, also eyeing a presence in Uganda as the company seeks further expansion in Africa...Operations in Nairobi, Kenya, are also due to provide a cash payment system pilot program, a major departure from hitherto common practice of payments by credit card”.

Lyft Strikes Bigger Settlement

As we noted Travel Law: Lyft driver class action settlement rejected by court, eturbonews/com (5/5/2016) a proposed settlement in Cotter v. Lyft, Inc. with Lyft drivers for $12.25 million was rejected by the Court as inadequate. In Hancock, Lyft Strikes Bigger Settlement With Drivers, The Recorder (5/11/2016) it was noted that “Lyft, Inc., has reached a new $27 million settlement with California drivers to end litigation over their independent-contractor status, after a federal judge threw out an earlier deal as too low....U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria...said the amount ($12.25 million) ‘shortchanged’ drivers and insisted that any future deal be at least 17 percent of the expenses that would be owed to Lyft drivers if they prevailed at trial”.

Uber Recognizes Independent Drivers Guild

In Scheiber & Isaac, Uber Recognizes New York Drivers’ Group, Short of a Union, (5/10/2016) it was noted that “Uber announced an agreement on Tuesday with a prominent union to create an association of drivers in New York that would establish a forum for regular dialogue and afford them some limited benefits and protections-but that would stop short of unionization. The association, which will be known as the Independent Drivers Guild and will be affiliated with a regional branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union, is the first of its kind that Uber has officially blessed, although Uber drivers have formed a number of unsanctioned groups in cities across the country”.

Uber In Sao Paulo, Brazil

In Sao Paulo regulates Uber services in the city, (5/10/2016) it was noted that “The mayor of Sao Paulo, Fernando Haddad, took an important step in... regulating Uber services in the city...The PT signed a decree that now allows the individual transport services for applications in the state capital, which includes Uber, but also makes room for other competitors. From now on, companies that offer this type of service will be required to pay a fee of RO.10 per kilometer with a passenger. The idea is to allow a fleet drawn initially by the city to realize the city’s demand. The initial plan is to release the circulation of five thousand vehicles in this category”.

Travel Law Article: The McReynolds Case

As noted by the Court in the McReynolds case “In February 2011, McReynolds traveled to a resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The trip was an all-inclusive vacation package arranged by two companies, Ultimate Cruise and Vacation, Inc. And The Mark Travel Corporation, doing business as Funjet Vacations (the companies)”.

Hiding The Key To The Safe

“When McReynolds checked into the hotel in Mexico, she received a key to the safe in her room, and she began storing her jewelry and cash in the safe. A few days later, a traveling companion told her that she should not keep her room key in the same bag as her safe key, because her room number was engraved on her room key. He told her that she ‘should keep them separate because of [their] sitting down at the beach, going in the water and how unattended [her] beach bag was’. After receiving this advice, McReynolds continued to use the safe and began to hide the safe key in her room”.

The Empty Safe

“Near the end of her stay, McReynolds left her room and stowed eight pieces of jewelry and some cash in the safe. She hid the safe key inside a purse and hid the purse inside a drawer in her room before she left. When McReynolds returned, she discovered that the safe key was missing and that the safe was locked. Hotel staff used a drill to open the safe, which was empty. There were no signs in the room that entry was forced...McReynolds never recovered the items taken from the safe (and claimed) that the jewelry taken from the safe was valued at $63,985 and that the $560 is cash was also taken”.

The Antiquated Room Key System

“When McReynolds returned from the trip, she contacted an employee of the companies (who) told her that the other hotel at the resort ‘included a credit card key system as opposed to the antiquated room key system’ used at the hotel where McReynolds stayed”.

Negligence Claim

“McReynolds filed a complaint (naming) as defendants the companies and the local and corporate owners of the hotel...McReynolds claimed that the companies were negligent in failing to warn her of the ‘defect in the key system at the hotel’. According to McReynolds a key system ‘in which they key displays the room number does not comply with the international hotel industry’s standard...when the in-room safe also requires a key instead of a combination’, because it ‘necessitates the two (2) keys to be separated’. She claimed that the companies should have warned her of ‘this industry standard violation’”

Breach Of Contract Claim

“Regarding her breach of contract claim, McReynolds claimed that she contracted with the companies for her hotel room, and they breached their duty under the contract to provide her with a secure room free from criminal acts. She did not point to any language in any contract to support this argument”.

Duty To Warn

The Court’s analysis was as follows: “The threshold inquiry I any negligence action is whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty...This Court has never considered whether a travel agent owes a duty to disclose pertinent information to its clients. Courts from other jurisdictions generally agree...that as special agents, travel agents or tour operators are subject to the duties of care and skill imposed under the law of agency. Under agency principals, travel agents do not owe a general duty to warn travelers of general safety precautions, but they owe a duty ‘to use reasonable efforts to give [the] principal information which is relevant to affairs entrusted to him and which, as the agent has notice, the principal would desire’”

Obvious Or Apparent Dangers

“However, courts in other jurisdictions also agree that travel agents and tour operators do not owe a duty to disclose information about obvious or apparent dangers. It appears well settled in other jurisdictions that an agent’s duty to warn travelers of dangerous conditions ‘applies to situations where a tour operator [or travel agent] is aware of a dangerous condition not readily discoverable by the plaintiff. It simply does not apply to an obvious dangerous condition equally observable by plaintiff’”.

The Decision

“In the instant case, McReynolds claims that the hotel’s key system was defective because her room key was engraved with her room number. She argues that the engraved number created a risk of theft, because if she kept the room key in the same bag as her safe and the bag was stolen, ‘’they would have access to both the room and the room safe’. Therefore, the system ‘necessitate[d] the two (2) keys to be separated’. She claims the companies negligently failed to warn her of this defect in the key system, but she also admits that she recognized the defect and that the continued to use the safe anyway”.

No Duty To Disclose The Obvious

“We adopt the majority rule that travel agents do not owe a duty to disclose information about obvious or apparent dangers and conclude that the companies had no duty to warn McReynolds of the obvious risk created by the key system. Because this particular risk of the defective key system was obvious, it was incumbent upon McReynolds to avoid the obvious danger it created. She apparently attempted to do so by hiding her safe key in her room. She does not claim that the companies should have warned her that hiding the safe key in her room created a risk of theft. And even if she had made such an allegation, the risk of theft created by hiding the key to a safe in the same room as the safe itself is obvious. Because no duty was owed, there was no negligence, and the lower court properly granted summary judgment as to this claim [(relying upon Hofer v. Gap, Inc., 516 F. Supp. 2d 161 (D. Mass. 2007) and McCollum v. Friendly Hills Travel Center, 172 Cal. App. 3d 83 (1985) and distinguishing Lewis ex rel. Houseworth v. Elsin, 2002 Mo. App. LEXIS 435 (Mo. App. 2002)].


The best advice to travelers is do not bring real jewelry or cash with you when you travel.

Justice Dickerson has been writing about travel law for 39 years including his annually updated law books, Travel Law, Law Journal Press (2016) and Litigating International Torts in U.S. Courts, Thomson Reuters WestLaw (2016), and over 400 legal articles many of which are available at Justice Dickerson is also the author of Class Actions: The Law of 50 States, Law Journal Press (2016). For additional travel law news and developments, especially in the member states of the EU, see

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Defective key system and loss of jewelry at a hotel: What are your legal rights?
Hon. Thomas A. Dickerson

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