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Can valets face liability under dram shop laws? (1 of 2)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently highlighted an important legal issue regarding Pennsylvania's Dram Shop Law.

Under the law, bartenders and bar owners can be held liable for over-serving patrons who leave the establishments and cause drunk driving accidents.

But what about restaurant and bar valet workers who hand car keys to patrons who are visibly intoxicated? Can they too be held accountable in these dram shop liability cases?

The Post-Gazette raised these questions after a South Side bar worker said she saw numerous valet workers allowing drivers to leave drunk over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

The valet service was part of a plan to keep visiting vehicles off of residential streets.

The bar worker told the Post-Gazette that she has been trained to not allow drunk patrons to drive, but she wondered if valets have the same legal responsibility.

No, they don’t, according to a lawyer and advanced tort law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

The lawyer and professor explained that valet workers are not “liquor licensees” so they are not governed by the Dram Shop Law.

Additionally, valet workers have a legal duty to return keys to drivers no matter what, said the president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, which organized the valet services over the St. Paddy’s weekend.

To keep drunk drivers off of the road, she said that the valet service included a sober ride for those who opted to take it.

However, a spokesman for the company that provided the valet service said that only two people did. He said the drunk driving issue is really a "moral" one when it comes to valet services. But in extreme situations, the spokesman said workers would alert police.

Should valet companies have more than a moral duty to stop people from drunk driving? Check back next week for more on this complicated legal issue.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Valet liability very low in drunk driving cases,” Jon Schmitz, March 18, 2014

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