The following blog is written by a law student for informational purposes only. It is not – and should not – be construed as offering legal advice. If you are seeking assistance with a legal matter, consult a lawyer.

It’s a cold Friday night. You just finished a long week of assignments at Queen’s so you decide to hit the city for some fun. You eventually find yourself at a nightclub, hoping to find your future partner on the dance floor. Instead, you leave the club only to find out that your expensive jacket – that you left with coat-check – is gone. The person in charge of coat-check must have given your jacket to someone else by mistake! You are furious.

As you walk home in the cold, you wonder: what can I do? Do I have a legal action against the club? This isn’t my fault! Now I need to buy a new jacket!

These questions are not so simple to answer. In fact, there isn’t much law directly on-point for the matter. However, Tremear v Park Town Motor Hotels Ltd offers some insight into how some well-established common-law principles may apply to a similar situation.

In Tremear, the plaintiff worked part-time at a hotel. The hotel was the defendant in this action. During the winter months, the plaintiff used a secure staff change room to hang her expensive jacket. The staff change room was offered by the hotel. However, a few months later, the hotel directed its employees to use a basement that had small, shared storage lockers instead.

The lockers were too small for the plaintiff’s jackets and she even advised her supervisor of the issue. However, with no alternatives offered to her, the plaintiff – along with many other employees – used the public coat-check in the lobby to hang their jackets.

One day at work, the plaintiff went to the public coat-check area only to find out that her jacket and car keys were missing. Her belongings were never found so she sued the hotel.

There was no dispute that the hotel was the employer for the plaintiff. The court found that as a part of the hotel’s responsibility to the plaintiff, and incidental to her employment, that she required somewhere to put her jacket. The cold Saskatchewan winters made this so.

While the hotel did provide staff change rooms for some time, it failed to provide an adequate alternative once it withdrew those change rooms for employees. The hotel also knew that many of its employees – including the plaintiff – started using the public coat-check as an alternative. This coat-check was less secure and thus it was reasonably foreseeable that the plaintiff’s belongings might go missing.

The hotel tried to raise two defences, both of which the court rejected. First, it argued that the plaintiff accepted the risk by continuing to use the public coat-check. However, there was no evidence to suggest that such an understanding of risk-acceptance existed between the two parties. Second, the hotel argued that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent although this line of attack failed because the plaintiff notified her supervisor of the unsecure conditions of the public coat-check. Yet, no alternatives were made for her.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit was successful and she was awarded money for the loss of her jacket and car keys.

And there you have it: a simple case with a multitude of legal concepts touching areas of law such as employment, contract, and tort law.

So what does Tremear tell our unfortunate friend who just left the nightclub to brave the cold? It tells us that there are many questions for our friend to consider. Did he pay for coat-check? Was there a contract created between our friend and the club when he used coat-check? Did the club owe a duty to take care of the jacket it accepted from our friend? If so, did the club fail to meet its duty?

The questions – just like the circumstances – are plentiful. Perhaps there’s a “use at your own risk” sign that muddles the issue. Maybe the coat-check was so sketchy that any person should have known that their jacket was likely to go missing. There are many concepts that might be involved in establishing liability, or finding against it depending on each situation.  

Out of the mess above, perhaps the simplest question our friend can answer: is the jacket really worth suing for?

-Christopher Lupis (Queen’s Law, class of 2019)