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Copyright (c) 1996 Utah Law Review Society
Utah Law Review

ARTICLE: The Innkeeper's Tale: The Legal Development of a Public Calling


1996 Utah L. Rev. 51


David S. Bogen *


At nyght was come into that hostelrye Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye, Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle 1

Herry Bailly, Chaucer's ideal fourteenth-century host, would never turn away a pilgrim if a bed could be found. 2 It is uncertain whether this hospitality was also compelled by law, because English law concerning innkeepers' obligations to their customers was just beginning to develop during Chaucer's lifetime. This Article tells the story of how innkeepers came to be liable for the losses of their guests, how that liability became part of the common law, and how, in turn, the public right of access to inns grew out of that liability.

The commonly accepted explanations for the development of the public right of access to inns are untenable. According to one theory, the right developed in response to the monopoly power of inns. 3 This theory does not square with the facts. 4 Strict liability developed in the latter part of the fourteenth century when inns faced serious economic pressures. 5 The public right to accommodations was firmly established by the beginning of the seventeenth century when judges debated whether there were too many inns, not too few. 6

According to another theory, offering services to the public was an undertaking to serve all members of the public. 7 But that is not so much a theory as a tautology. Innkeepers made no express promise to serve all comers, and ...
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