Tourist sues SF hotel after it gave his luggage to alleged perpetrator

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — The ABC7 News I-Team is investigating what lawyers say is a loophole in the law that allows hotels across the state to avoid paying real damages to guests.

Imagine that you booked a hotel, but the hotel accidentally gave away all of your belongings to an alleged perpetrator without verifying a valid ID. It happened in San Francisco with Bob Sabouni.

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According to the court decision, Sabouni lost $8,390.88 of his property. He sued the San Francisco Marriott Marquis and won. Surprisingly, Marriott successfully filed an appeal. But the state Supreme Court judge overseeing the case says it was done unfairly.

Here’s how it happened.

Bob’s story

What should have been a post-quarantine summer getaway in San Francisco turned into a legal nightmare for Bob Sabuny.

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

“Then we moved on to the game and had a great time. The giants have won! Saboni said.

But later that night, Sabouni suffered a great defeat.

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“Everything was there except mine,” he said.

Sabouni says his luggage, which included a Briggs & Riley foldable bag, a Tumi leather backpack, an iPad Pro, a MacBook Pro, a 4TB hard drive with his Social Security number, and seven years of tax papers, was nowhere to be found.

“I spoke to the manager the next morning who said he was looking into it and found that he had given my stuff to someone else,” Sabouni said.

According to the court order, security footage from the hotel shows that later that day a man entered the Marriott claiming he checked his bag but lost the receipt.

“Remarkably, Marriott let the guy go into the back room, he pointed to my bags and said they were mine…the guy asked if there was a way to prove it? Do you have tickets? Do you have ID? the guy said I didn’t have any of that, but he just mentioned there was a computer in that bag.” Saboni said.

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“Of course there were, and they just handed over my things.”

Sabouni says that in the following weeks the hotel was unwilling to compensate him for damages if he did not provide receipts for each item. Frustrated with the process, Sabouni later sued Marriott in small claims court and won.

“The judge awarded us $5,000, which was nowhere near the $9,000 I lost, but you know, I was pleased,” Sabouni said.

But the story doesn’t end there.

legal battle

Marriott then filed an appeal based on law passed in 1872 – also known as the hotelier’s statute – which limits the hotel’s liability for guest property to $1,000. Marriott won the appeal, but unfairly, according to San Francisco Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Ross, who wrote:

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

According to the court decision, Ross emphasized that the law was outdated, noting in particular that this statute “has not been revised in line with the current value of luggage, clothing and, above all, computer equipment and its data.”

“Prices have skyrocketed since this legislation was first passed,” said Jim Wilcox, professor of economics at the UC Berkeley School of Business.

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Wilcox said that the prices of goods and services have risen 20 to 25 times since the law was first passed in 1872. However, in 2022 hotels in California are liable for items up to $1,000 – the maximum.

“Compared to when the law was first passed, $1,000 would then be the equivalent of real purchasing power and require a ceiling of about $25,000,” Wilcox said.

Judge Ross wrote in the judgment: “Marriott can be expected to admit its error and, in the interest of customer relations, comply with the judgment. Instead, Marriott filed an appeal.”

I-Team ABC7 News approached 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 court record, the hotel is only legally liable for $500 under that law.

“It has to be upgraded with the times, although a physical computer might cost x dollars, what it costs is a lot more,” said Relanie Whitebeard, founder of the Whitebeard law firm. “You have an industry that has a free jailbreak card.”

The innkeeper’s charter has not been amended for 42 years, and consumers like Sabouni are paying the price.

“It’s important to me to hold them accountable for the safety of customers and not give them that shield,” Sabouni said.

On appeal, the court ordered Marriott to pay Sabuni $1,553 for a mistake made by their own staff. Meanwhile, Sabouni told the I-Team that, considering his losses, he spent over $10,000 trying to fight the case.

The question is, is it time to change the law?

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