Friday, January 18, 2013

Judge Amesbury of Luzerne County Addresses Liability of a Car Valet Service

In his recent decision in the case of Moranko v. Downs Racing, L.P. d/b/a Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, No. 2011-CV-10312 (C.P. Luz. Co. Jan. 3, 2013 Amesbury, J.), Judge William H. Amesbury of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas reviewed the issue of the responsibilities owed by a valet service of an establishment with respect to returning a motor vehicle to an allegedly visibly intoxicated person.

According to the opinion, the Plaintiff’s decedent arrived at a Pennsylvania casino and utilized the valet service on the premises. The Court’s Opinion noted that, while no one apparently saw the decedent consume any alcoholic beverages on the premises, at approximately 7:30 p.m. that evening, the decedent was allegedly seen by other patrons in a bar area of the casino in an allegedly visibly intoxicated state.

By 8:02 p.m., the decedent requested his car from the valet service. The Opinion notes that the decedent’s vehicle was delivered the decedent at approximately 8:11 p.m. The decedent was then involved in a fatal one-vehicle accident after leaving the casino premises.

In the Complaint filed on behalf of the decedent, there was a Dram Shop claim alleging service of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person and a negligence claim based upon the delivery of the decedent’s vehicle to him while he was allegedly visibly intoxicated.

This case came to the Court by way of a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the defense.

After applying the facts to the applicable law, the Court entered summary judgment in favor of the Defendant on all claims.

With respect to the Dram Shop claim, the Court noted that there was no direct evidence in the records to support the allegation that the Defendant had served the decedent with alcoholic beverages while he was visibly intoxicated.

In this regard, the Court noted that the decedent was on the premises for a relatively short period of time and that there were other unrelated vendors on the premises who could have sold alcoholic beverages to the decedent.

The Court disagreed with the Plaintiff’s argument that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to allow this case to proceed to trial. The Court stated that, under the circumstances, any finding by the jury in favor of the Plaintiff under the record before the Court would be based upon mere speculation and conjecture.

With regards to the claim of negligence against the valet service, the Court stated that there was no Pennsylvania law that supported an argument that the valet service owed a duty to the decedent as alleged by the Plaintiff.

In its analysis, the Court reviewed the law of bailment and stated that, any refusal by the Defendant to return property in a mutual bailment, such as was present in the valet service arrangement, could possibly constitute a conversion. Accordingly, summary judgment was entered in favor of the Defendant on this claim as well.

Anyone wishing to review Judge Amesbury's decision in Moranko may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney David Heisler of the Scranton office of Cipriani & Werner for bringing this case to my attention.

UPDATETo review the Tort Talk Post on the Superior Court Opinion affirming the trial court's decision in this matter and to see the Link to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Order denying the Petition to Appeal to that Court, click HERE.

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