A valet parking service does not owe a duty to third parties to refrain from returning car keys to an obviously drunk customer, a Florida appellate court ruled earlier this month in Weber v. Marino Parking Systems.
Nicole Weber was killed in an auto accident when a car driven Michael Price Jr. – and in which Weber was a passenger – crashed. Prior to the accident, Price and Weber were at Sway Lounge in Naples, where Price allegedly drank a substantial amount of alcohol and became visibly drunk. Nevertheless, the valet service with whom Price had left his car gave him the keys and allowed Price to drive away from the area.
Weber’s mother, Debbie, sued both the lounge and the valet service – Marino Parking Systems – for wrongful death, alleging that the later entity should not have returned the keys to Price because he was visibly intoxicated. The trial court granted Marino’s motion to dismiss the claim against it, however, finding that the company owed no such duty to Weber. The court based its decision on the Second District’s 1990 decision in Blocker v. EJA Realty Ltd., in which it held that a valet service was not liable for returning a car to an obviously intoxicated owner.
On appeal in the present case, the Court rejected Debbie Weber’s argument that the reasoning in Blocker was nullified by the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Kitchen v. K-Mart, which allowed a suit for “negligent entrustment” against a store that sold a gun to an intoxicated buyer.
In order to successfully bring a claim for negligent entrustment, a plaintiff must generally establish that the defendant had a right to control a dangerous instrumentality; the defendant relinquished the right; and the instrument caused an accident or injury. Although cars, like guns, are inherently dangerous instruments, the valet service had no right to control the car, unlike a store selling its goods, according to the Court. The company certainly did not own the car and had no right to keep it once Price requested the keys, the Court ruled. “To the contrary, Marino Parking could have been found liable for conversion had it failed to return the car,” the Court explained.
As a result, the Court affirmed the dismissal of the claim against Marino. While the claim against the lounge remains, it is unclear whether Weber will ultimately be successful. Florida Statute 768.125 provides that a person who sells or supplies alcohol to another cannot be held liable for injury or damage caused by that person as a result of intoxication except where: 1) the person selling or supplying the booze knowingly serves it to someone who is “habitually addicted” to alcohol; or 2) the person who causes the injury is under the legal drinking age.
As this ruling shows, a Florida car accident can raise a wide variety of liability issues, including those related to the legal responsibility of persons and businesses who weren’t even behind the wheel at the time of an accident. If you have been injured in a crash, contact the South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. We work hard to zealously represent our clients throughout the area, including in Pompano Beach, Boca Raton and Hialeah. Our lawyers commonly represent individuals who were injured in vehicle collisions, and we persevere to get great results for our clients.
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