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Pennsylvania Court Rules Whether A Valet Is Liable For Fatality After Returning Vehicle To Intoxicated Owner

Under Pennsylvania Dram Shop Laws, owners and workers at establishments serving alcohol may be held liable for damages when providing drinks to those who are visibly intoxicated. Does similar potential liability exist for valet parking attendants who return a vehicle to a patron who is visibly intoxicated? 

Richard Moranko used the valet parking option at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Luzerne County. Later, when he called for the valet to return the car, it may have been apparent that he was highly intoxicated. The valet made no offer to call him a cab or notify security. Moranko drove and crashed into a truck and was killed. His blood-alcohol concentration was 0.32%, several times in excess of the legal limit of 0.08%. Faye Moranko, Richard’s mother, filed a wrongful death claim, contending that Mohegan exhibited negligence in providing excessive alcohol to the deceased and then providing him car keys despite his condition.

Judge William H. Amesbury heard  the case Moranko v. Downs Racing L.P in a Luzerne County Court. The judge found that the courts in Pennsylvania had yet to encounter the issue of whether valets may withhold a vehicle from an intoxicated owner. The plaintiff asserted it was in the best interests of the public to allow valets to prevent tragedies in the future; however, she was unable to overcome the defense argument that refusing to return the car equated to an inappropriate property seizure. 

Amesbury stated there was no legal basis for withholding someone’s property in these circumstances. He added that valets are not in a position to assess customer sobriety and wrongful accusations could have legal implications. He explained that in dangerous circumstances where a patron was unable to walk, notifying the authorities would be appropriate. The court reminded the parties that its function was the application of law—not to create law. The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court.

The plaintiff next argued that the Mohegan had a duty to care based on their in-house policy that sought to remove visibly intoxicated customers; however, the court disagreed saying that this policy applied to impaired customers on the gaming floor and did not address retrieval of customer vehicles. Judges Donohue, Bender and Mundy comprised a panel in the Superior Court that affirmed the ruling of the lower court that summary judgment was appropriate. The court cited several rulings in other states in supporting their finding.

In a Florida appeals case, a visibly impaired patron left a bar and claimed his vehicle from the valet service. Short after, the driver crashed and the impact killed a passenger. The court’s ruling was that it would have been unlawful for the valet to prevent the owner from accessing his vehicle. Similarly, the court referenced a case in Illinois where a heavily intoxicated customer of an auto repair shop was given his car back. In this matter, the court found the repair shop has no “discretion to withhold” a customer vehicle once the repair work was paid for.

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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