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Holly v. Meyers Hotel and Tavern Inc.

Decided: September 26, 1951.

ETHEL HOLLY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MEYERS HOTEL AND TAVERN, INC., A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



McGeehan, Jayne, and Wm. J. Brennan, Jr. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jayne, J.A.D.

Jayne

[15 NJSuper Page 384] The law applicable to the responsibilities of innkeepers is of ancient origin. The most industrious and

inquisitive research would probably fail to reveal when and where the first inn as such was established. The historian Herodotus awards the honor of establishing the first hotel to the Lydians. The Scriptures indicate that inns existed in Palestine and its adjoining countries. We read of the presence of "Khans" along the highways and "caravansaries" in the cities throughout Oriental countries. Perhaps nowhere in Europe did they more rapidly obtain an encampment than in England. Since the word "inn" is doubtless of Chaldaic origin, literally meaning "to pitch a tent," it may be said that the development and maintenance of inns have gradually expanded from the humble tents of the nomads of the desert to the magnificent structures of the 20th Century which in some instances seem to shelter a small village beneath a single roof.

Yet in the main the basic principles of law relating to the innkeeper's liabilities have continued to subsist. And so it may be remarked that the keepers of the enormous hotels in the great cities and recreational resorts of the United States of the present day derive their rights and trace their responsibilities to the host of the humble village inn of medieval England. More adventurous than circumspect would be the court that endeavored to innovate in the fundamental characteristics of so serviceable a branch of the law.

A phase of an innkeeper's responsibility is presented to us for consideration by the instant appeal. While the occurrence which induced this litigation is exceptional, it is not novel. This is a case of defenestration.

Since the trial judge granted a motion for the involuntary dismissal of the cause of action at the conclusion of the plaintiff's case, our summary of the testimony is stated in its aspect most favorable to the plaintiff's alleged claim.

It is acknowledged that the defendant was in control of the management of the 66-room hotel in Hoboken at the time of the mishap and thus occupied the legal status of an innkeeper.

On the afternoon of March 31, 1949, the captain of a ship engaged three rooms at the hotel for the accommodation of a

group of five Canadian sailors. The rooms so assigned were situate on the third floor, and evidently one of the rooms faced on Hudson Street. The chronological sequence of events is significant.

At 7 o'clock in the evening the sailors arrived at the hotel and proceeded to their rooms. Between 9:30 and 10 o'clock they communicated with the hotel clerk concerning the purchase of a bottle of rum. It was not supplied to them by the hotel.

At about 10:45 P.M. a female guest occupying a room on the third floor telephoned to the hotel clerk and imparted to him the information that the sailors were causing an unusual amount of noise. The clerk notified the sailors by telephone of the complaint and the sailors assured him that "they would be quiet." About 20 minutes later the same guest again communicated with the clerk and apprised him that "the noise had not subsided and they (the sailors) were throwing around what sounded like a shoe." Thereupon, at about 11:05 P.M., the hotel clerk personally announced his presence at the entrance of the room occupied by the sailors and again requested them to be quiet, asserting that otherwise they would be ejected from the premises.

Approximately two hours later the plaintiff was walking with her escort on the sidewalk alongside the hotel when a Coca Cola bottle was thrown out of the window above by one of the sailors. The bottle crashed on the pavement beside the plaintiff and a fragment of the broken glass entered the plaintiff's left eye. We may pause to state that the injury to her eye has been relatively serious.

The police were immediately summoned. The lights were still illuminated in the room inhabited by the sailors, and the police officers promptly visited the room, observed its disordered condition and interrogated the sailors except one ...


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