Valet Service Has No Duty to Intoxicated Person

June 26th, 2014 Firm News,Uncategorized

Pennsylvania Superior Court  Finds Mohegan Sun Valet Service has No Duty to Intoxicated Person

Maranko v. Downs, W.L. 2841549 (Pa. Super 2014). Opinion by Panella, joined by Platt (Senior Judge assigned to Superior Court), dissent by Mundy.

This case raises an issue of first impression in this Commonwealth regarding the duty and ultimate liability of a valet service when an automobile is returned to an allegedly intoxicated patron. The court found that no duty to intoxicated person exists under Pennsylvania law. It should be noted, however, that the court held that there was no duty under Section 324A of Restatement (Second) of Torts because that section pertains to liability to third persons. Therefore, the result might have been different if the case had been brought by a third party against the valet service.

This case was brought by Faye M. Moranko, Administratrix of the Estate of Richard L. Moranko, deceased. the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County entered summary judgment in favor of Appellee, Down Racing LP, d/b/a Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs (“Mohegan Sun”). the Superior Court affirmed.

The Court accepted Moranko’s contention that the decedent was visibly intoxicated  while at Mohegan Sun, but concluded that Pennsylvania law imposes no duty upon Mohegen Sun or its valet service to withhold the keys to an vehicle if the owner appears visibly intoxicated. (It should be noted that the Court also found that there was no evidence that Mohegan Sun served alcohol to the decedent).

Moranko relied upon Section 324A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, Liability to Third Person for Negligent Performance of Undertaking, to support the imposition of duty in this matter,  Section 324A provides as follows:

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his undertaking, if

(a) his failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm, or

(b) he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or

(c) the harm is suffered because of reliance of the other or the third person  upon the undertaking.

However, the court found this section to be applicable because it pertains to liability to third persons, and the present case deals with liability to the decedent.

Moranko also cited Section 390 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, Chattel for Use by Person Known to be Incompetent, in support of her argument. However, the court found this argument to be without merit because Mohegan Sun, as bailee, was duty bound to return the decedent’s vehicle despite his alleged intoxication. Therefore, the court held that the negligent entrusting theory of tort liability did not apply to this case.

Mundy dissented, finding that Mohegan Sun assumed a duty to decedent as part of its internal organizational and operational policies.

This case demonstrates the complexity of alleging duty to intoxicated person.

The attorney firm of Freeburn & Hamilton, P.C. has dedicated itself to providing the best legal service for its clients since its founding  in 1982. The law firm is a member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Our founder, Richard E. Freeburn, Esq., Christina L. Bradley, Esq.; and Richard A. Sadlock, Esq. have been recognized as Super Lawyers by their peers. Lawrence F. Barone, Esq. and Stephen A. Schneider, Esq., are certified as workers’ compensation  law specialists by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

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