Verduzco v. American Valet (CA1 6/21/16)

Discussing the negligence of a parking valet.

Defendant runs the valet parking at a hotel. It released a Porsche to a man who demanded it but who had no claim ticket or I.D., who was in fact stealing it, and who was high on drugs. He drove away and caused a serious accident with Plaintiffs, who sued Defendant (along with its employee and principal) alleging negligence and negligent entrustment. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs hadn’t properly pleaded that it knew or should have known that the driver was on drugs and that it had no duty to Plaintiffs. The trial court granted the motion.

On the issue of duty the argument by Plaintiff’s was that Restatement (Third) 7 should apply.  But Division One rejected the same argument last year in Alcombrack so it affirms dismissal of the negligence claim.

On the negligent entrustment claim it reverses. The Complaint did allege specifically that the driver was on drugs and that Defendant “should have known” that he was impaired. Defendant’s argument, it seems, was that the Complaint should have alleged the specific facts by which it could have known that. But there was “no real dispute that the complaint put [Defendant] on notice of the claim” and the law does not require more. The court doesn’t express any annoyance at the argument, though, so it must have been a closer question than it seems and not just the sort of useless, time-wasting, fee-generating, hyper-pedantic game playing that it sounds like.

Defendant also argued that negligent entrustment shouldn’t apply to valet parking. It cited cases from other jurisdictions holding that a valet must return a car to its owner even if he’s impaired. The court points out that giving the car to someone else instead is “a distinction that matters.” Defendant also contended, in an argument it teased out of sentence in a California case involving police, that a valet has only “transitory” control of the car and not, apparently, controlling control or whatever other species of control it is that can give rise to a claim for negligent entrustment. But Defendant was a bailee and bailees have “sole custody and control.” Defendant doesn’t seem to have made much mention of the law of bailments, perhaps because that law would require of it things  like “ordinary care.”

Defendant made an argument under Restatement (Second) 390 that we will skip because it tempts us to write another sentence full of hyphens. And it argued that because people aren’t liable to the victims of those who steal their cars it shouldn’t be liable to the victims of those it gives cars to. This is another distinction that the court feels makes a difference.

(Opinion: Verduzco v. American Valet)