Court Rules Valet Does Not Have Duty to Keep Keys From Intoxicated Driver

by Carmen Dellutri on November 30, 2012

Fort Myers accident lawyerA federal appeals court recently ruled that a valet parking service is not legally obligated to withhold car keys from an obviously intoxicated customer. Debbie Weber filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Marino Parking Systems in Naples after her daughter Nicole was killed in a drunk driving accident.

The driver of the vehicle, Michael Price obtained his car from the valet despite his apparent intoxication. After driving away from the lounge, Price was involved in an accident that caused Weber's death.

Although Florida courts have previously failed to impose a duty on valet services to retain the keys of intoxicated drivers, Weber’s attorneys had hoped that a recent decision involving a retailer who sold a gun to an intoxicated buyer would sway the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to allow the suit to proceed. Although the court agreed that “cars, like guns, are dangerous instrumentalities,” its decision to dismiss the case hinged on the relationship between the valet service and the driver.

In its opinion, the court noted that an essential element of a negligent entrustment cause of action is that the person charged with liability have a superior right to control the property. In this case, Price was the rightful owner of the car, and the valet was a bailee, which is the legal term for someone who hold the property of another pursuant to an agreement between the parties. Therefore, the valet did not have a legal right to refuse to return the vehicle, the court reasoned.

"To the contrary, Marino Parking could have been found liable for conversion had it failed to return the car," the judges held. "In other words, the valet cannot be liable for negligently 'entrusting' the car to its rightful owner."

The case, if successful, would have created precedent in Florida and provided victims with another avenue to seek compensation in drunk driving accidents. Weber’s attorneys do, however, have plans to appeal.

The Dellutri Law Group is focused on making bad situations better and putting lives back together. If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in a Naples accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation.  

To learn more about your legal options, contact our experienced Naples injury attorneys for a free consultation.

 

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