Cases about safety deposit boxes are so rare. Banks and trust companies are usually careful and do not allow boxes to be mis-assigned or improperly opened. That said, cases on the failure to take proper care do exist.
Where a bank erroneously drills a box the bank can be found liable for items lost and for the emotional upset such interference with goods left for safekeeping causes.
In Cuvelier v. Bank of Montreal, 2000 CarswellNS 296 the bank had a box drilled which it thought was an inactive box, and then contacted the bailor to claim its contents. The bailor discovered that $29,150 was missing from the box and sued the bank in negligence for its return.
The Nova Scotia Supreme Court held that the onus to prove the loss was on the customer who did so by virtue of the evidence of his children who attested to the fact that he kept large sums of money in his box. The customer succeeded on the basis of a breach by the bank of its duty as a bailee to take reasonable care.
Punitive damages were awarded in Mohtadi v. Canada Trust Co. 2002 CarswellBC 2441. The trust company's records erroneously showed that the customer had not paid the box rental fee and so the box was drilled. The customer only learned of this when she could not get access to the box and sued for wrongful interference with the contents including lost items. The court found for the customer and restored the contents, which had been found by the trust company, to her. The court awarded, among other things, $5,000 for aggravated damages, and $15,000 in punitive damages because the customer was very upset and the trust company's conduct was obviously wrongful.