As Hermine made its way up the Eastern Seaboard, everyone along the New Jersey Coastline was praying this would not be a repeat of Hurricane Sandy. We in the tristate were lucky this time and the storm went out to sea with little impact, but as I read recent blog posts while preparing for the storm, I thought about what would happen to personal articles set aside in storage in preparation for the storm, and then suffered damage while in the storage unit: Who would be responsible?

A Bailee is one to whom you would entrust property to. A Bailment relationship exists when the property is delivered for storage or safe keeping. The Bailee has a responsibility to maintain the property in a safe condition.

The duty of care imposed on a bailee is now codified in N.J.S.A. 12A:7–204 which provides in pertinent part:

(1) A warehouseman is liable for damages for loss of or injury to the goods caused by his failure to exercise such care in regard to them as a reasonably careful man would exercise under like circumstances but unless otherwise agreed he is not liable for damages which could not have been avoided by the exercise of such care.

(2) Damages may be limited by a term in the warehouse receipt or storage agreement limiting the amount of liability in case of loss or damage, and setting forth a specific liability per article or item, or value per unit of weight, beyond which the warehouseman shall not be liable; … No such limitation is effective with respect to the warehouseman’s liability for conversion to his own use.

In the case of Gonzalez v. A-1 Self Storage,1 the Defendant attempted to limit its liability through contractual language, a boilerplate form not negotiated by the Plaintiff, which, among other provisions, required plaintiff to insure the property while denying Plaintiff the ability to sue the Defendant’s carrier in a third-party action. The contract itself was ultimately found to be unconscionable—and in the court’s words “outrageous”—but based on the multiple provisions of the contract which limited Defendant’s liability, not based on any one clause.

If the contract with your storage unit requires that the property be insured by you, do not assume that the court will void the contract, make sure your contents are covered under either your homeowner policy, a separate policy for personal property, or protected under a warehouse policy of insurance, if applicable.

1 Gonzalez v. A-1 Self Storage, Inc., 350 N.J. Super 403, 795 A2d 885 (App. Div. 2000).