Ziva Jewelry, Inc. v. Car Wash Headquarters, Inc. Supreme Court of Alabama 897 So. 2d 1011, 2004 Ala. LEXIS 238

A bailee can be liable only for the property he knows he possesses. In this case, Smith left his car and his keys with a carwash employee. A case full of jewelry was locked in the trunk, but Smith did not tell any of the car-wash employees that it was in the trunk. Smith watched the car go through the car-wash tunnel and watched the employees dry the vehicle. As he was standing at the counter waiting to pay the cashier, he saw the employee wave a flag, indicating that his car was ready to be driven away. Smith then saw the employee walk away from his vehicle. While Smith was still at the counter, someone jumped into Smith’s vehicle and sped off the car-wash premises. The police were called, and Smith’s car was recovered 15 minutes later. The car was not damaged, but the jewelry, valued at $851,935, was missing from the trunk and never recovered.
Smith sued for negligent failure to safeguard the jewelry, but the trial court granted the defendant a summary judgment on the grounds that a bailment for the jewelry had never been established. The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed on grounds that a bailee is not liable for the loss of the contents of a bailed vehicle when the bailee did not have actual or implied knowledge of the contents of the vehicle. In this case, there was no evidence that the car wash knew or should have reasonably foreseen or expected that it was taking responsibility for over $850,000 worth of jewelry when it accepted Smith’s vehicle for the purpose of washing it.

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