Our drunk driving accident lawyers in West Palm Beach understand it’s a complex legal question. It seems perfectly reasonable to many to hold valets responsible as the last line of defense in cases where they hand the keys to an obviously intoxicated patron who later causes a serious or fatal traffic accidents. After all, dram shop laws are in place nationwide to hold waitresses, bartenders and party hosts responsible in cases where over-serving a patron results in tragedy.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Florida is not among states that extend liability to social hosts. However, vendors can face liability for serving alcohol to minors and can face limited liability in cases where service to an intoxicated adult contributes to an injury accident.
Should liability be extended to valets?
Dram shop laws extend liability for overservice to defendants responsible for the service of alcohol. Valets do not serve alcohol. In fact, the valet service is often contracted, or operated as a legal entity separate from the restaurant or bar, which further distances it from liability in cases where motorists subsequently cause a serious or fatal traffic accident.
It’s not an issue unfamiliar to South Florida courtrooms. In Weber v. Marino Parking Systems, Inc., Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals rejected a claim against a Naples valet after a 2007 accident on I-75 that claimed the life of her daughter and boyfriend. The two consumed copious amounts of alcohol at a now-defunct East Naples lounge before the valet handed him the keys to his performance Corvette Z06. He lost control of the car at more than 100 miles an hour. The plaintiffs argued negligent entrustment and failure to exercise a reasonable duty of care.
However, the court ruled a valet couldn’t be held liable for entrusting a vehicle to its owner, and in fact would have to have some superior claim to the vehicle. Courts in other states have made similar rulings. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently reported the Florida ruling and several others have found a valet could be held responsible for refusing to return a vehicle to its rightful owner.
Preventing drunk driving accidents in Florida
April is Alcohol Awareness Month across the United States. Adults can start by setting a good example. It’s also critical to talk to the young drivers in your family, who are among the most at risk.
According to statistics just released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 818 motorists died in Florida traffic accidents involving alcohol in 2012. Statistics show 1 in 5 underage drivers die legally intoxicated. Of those drivers ages 21-24, about 32 percent killed in traffic accidents are legally intoxicated, the highest of any age group.
Spring break is followed quickly by graduation and the start of summer break, making the spring a particularly important time to have a discussion with the young drivers in your family about the consequences of drinking and driving.