Recently, one of Cape Town’s leading and most respected luxury hotels hosted a sumptuous wedding reception, including accommodation for the bridal couple in its honeymoon suite. The wedding celebrations were severely dampened when the bride discovered that her R300 000 engagement ring had gone missing from her hotel room.
The hotel’s security systems showed no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the hotel’s staff but the hotel was still compelled to pay a considerable sum in settlement of the claim. 
As an established business, it could afford to do so – a luxury not afforded to the average B&B owner.
The owners of the hotel could find no fault on the part of any of the hotel’s employees. So who should they blame for having to cover the losses occasion by the missing engagement ring? Well, the Romans.
What very few people are aware of is the fact that under South African law the liability of all hotels, B&B’s and similar establishments is governed by an ancient legal provision dating back to Roman times. More particularly, the Roman law praetorian edict de nautis cauponibus et stabulariis imposed strict liability (i.e. liability without any fault) on innkeepers for the loss of, or damage to, goods brought onto the innkeeper’s premises. The goods need not have belonged to the guest; the articles need not have been expressly accepted by or entrusted to the innkeeper and a fee need not have been arranged; nor the person taken in as a guest. The innkeeper was also liable for the acts of his employees or those of any other guests frequenting the inn. Despite its antiquated origins, the edict remains part of South African law and is applicable to modern hotel and B&B owners.
As a result of the edict, hotels and B&B’s are held liable at common law for any losses suffered by their guests without any proof of negligence on the part of owner and/or its employees. In the absence of a written indemnity, the only exceptions to this broad liability are losses or damage suffered by guests as a result of “acts of God” or damage or loss occasioned by a guest’s sole negligence.
 There is a common misconception that signs stating that “Guests stay at their own risk” or that the establishment “won’t be liable for any losses” are sufficient to protect the establishment. Because our courts adopt a strict interpretation of indemnity notices, this is not the case. To get a comprehensive and professionally drafted indemnity simply speak to one of our attorneys on 0861 444 443.