Suing a Florida valet parking corporation in for handing over the keys to drunk patrons just got a lot more difficult. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently dismissed a case brought by the family of young women who was killed by an intoxicated driver. Nicole Weber went to the Sway Lounger with Michael Price. Price left his car with the valet parking service, Marino Parking Systems, Inc. After consuming a large quantity of alcohol, Price and Weber went to the valet stand to retrieve his car. The valet parking attendants were able to visibly ascertain that Weber was intoxicated, but did nothing to prevent him from getting behind the wheel and driving away with Ms. Weber. Shortly after leaving the parking lot, Price caused a tragic drunk driving traffic accident, killing Ms. Weber.
Ms. Weber’s Estate sued the valet service for her wrongful death under the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment. They alleged that the valets had a legal duty to prevent Mr. Price from obtaining his car while drunk. Marino moved to dismiss the case arguing that it had no legal duty, and unfortunately for Ms. Weber, the trial judge agreed. The trial judge apparently relied on the case of Blocker v. WJA Realty Ltd. Partnership, which affirmed that there is no legal duty on valet parking services to prevent access to a vehicle when the driver is intoxicated. Ms. Weber’s Estate, believing that the Blocker case was no longer good law, appealed her dismissal to Florida’s Second Court of Appeal.
Unfortunately, the Second Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court, affirming the dismissal. Relying upon cases in Illinois, the court found as an essential element for negligent entrustment that the person being charged with legal liability actually has a superior right to control the property in question. The court reasoned that once Weber paid the valet, the valet company no longer had any right to keep his car. The court went as far as to say that the valet attendants and company could have been found liable for conversion had they failed to return the car on demand.
As a Broward car accident lawyer who sues drunk drivers, I am very angry at the Court’s decision. I do not agree that anyone who can foresee a situation as dangerous as handing the keys over to a drunk driver and has an opportunity to prevent tragedy should not be held legally responsible. Valet parking attendants are agents to bars, restaurants and shopping malls. If they see a clearly drunk patron attempting to take possession of a car or truck, they should immediately notify the authorities and refuse to hand the keys over. Allowing this corporation and other valet parking companies to escape liability for delivering cars to drunk drivers endangers us all.
I urge Florida’s legislature to immediately enact a statute that would directly place liability on valet companies if they hand over car keys to an intoxicated driver. By placing a legal duty on valet companies, we hope that it will prevent other drunk driving accidents like this in the future. We express our condolences to the Weber family and applaud the efforts of her great North Florida car accident lawyers for trying to reverse this unjust and unfair law.