Valet Service

Are Valet Companies Responsible for Intoxicated Drivers?

October 25, 2019

A valet company — and by extension, their drivers —have several responsibilities. They are responsible for safely driving and parking customer vehicles and then retrieving them quickly when they are ready to leave. Valet attendant responsibilities also include greeting guests, maintaining the valet parking area and possibly directing traffic arriving at your facility. They are not, however, responsible for intoxicated drivers. Valet parking liabilities, for those companies that have valet liability insurance, will strictly pertain to vehicles in their care and property in the area of their operations.   

The responsibility for an intoxicated guest who becomes an intoxicated driver upon leaving the establishment is, in most states, the responsibility of the drink server or the venue where the alcohol was provided. While a premium valet service may be able to prevent drunk driving by observing and reporting an intoxicated individual, they are not legally responsible.

Understanding the law and valet parking liabilities will help businesses keep patrons safe and avoid potentially costly legal proceedings. An experienced valet company should be upfront with all the valet attendant responsibilities and any valet parking liabilities you should have a plan around.      

Who is at Fault for an Intoxicated Driver?

In most states in the U.S., in addition to the driver themselves, the establishment that served alcohol to the intoxicated driver is at fault, in the event of an accident that causes injury or property damage. What this means is that the restaurant, hotel, bar or country club can be sued by someone who sustained injuries or had property damage due to the behaviors of a drunk driver, provided they can prove that the driver was served alcohol at that place of business. This law is referred to as the Dram Shop Act.

Valet drivers are not responsible for intoxicated drivers, since they are not required to receive the training that those who serve alcohol are. They also have limited interaction with guests, unlike bar and restaurant servers who are serving drinks to their patrons.

What is the Dram Shop Act?

The Dram Shop Act is a statute in most U.S. states. It declares that any business that sells alcoholic drinks, or a host at a private event who serves liquor to a person who is intoxicated, is liable to any person who is injured by the intoxicated guest or patron. Under Dram shop laws, restaurants, bars, hotels and other businesses that serve an inebriated customer, who then causes an accident, may be held liable for personal injury or property damage. Liability even extends to private individuals hosting parties in their homes. These laws vary from state to state.

Are There Other Laws Regarding Intoxicated Patrons?

Intoxication laws can be very different between states. Some locales have an alcoholic beverage code that makes it illegal to sell alcohol to an inebriated person. Bartenders and wait staff are legally required to look for the telltale signs of intoxication and stop serving any customers who appear to have had too much. If they don’t, it’s a misdemeanor that is punishable by a fine and/or jail time.  

What Can You Do If You Suspect Someone Is Too Intoxicated?

If you’re a bar, hotel or restaurant owner, or you’re the manager of any facility that has a license to serve alcohol, you and your staff should know how to tell if a customer is intoxicated and the best way to handle them.

Signs of intoxication include:

  • Unsteady movements like staggering, swaying or stumbling
  • Slurred speech
  • Nodding off at the bar or table
  • Spilling drinks; lack of coordination
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Overly loud and aggressive
  • Drinking too quickly
  • Disheveled appearance

How should you handle an intoxicated guest?

  • Stop serving them drinks; inform them of the laws in your state
  • Suggest that they order food (eating slows down alcohol absorption)
  • Serve them non-alcoholic drinks
  • Be friendly and courteous, but firm
  • Stay calm and be respectful
  • Don’t argue – that might only escalate the situation
  • Speak to their friends; get someone to take them home
  • If they are alone, arrange a cab service to get them home safely

The most important thing is to not allow an intoxicated person to drive. If they are alone, arrange to keep their car at your facility overnight, so they can retrieve it the following day, when they are sober. This helps keep all your patrons safe and reflects well on your business. If you are interested in valet services for your business contact us!

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