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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Holds Casino Valet Service Owed No Duty to Visibly Intoxicated Driver Due to Relationship and Loss of Control

In a case of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision concerning the liability of a casino’s valet service after returning a vehicle to an allegedly intoxicated individual. The son of the deceased, Moranko, brought a wrongful death and survival action, alleging that the valet service negligently served Moranko alcoholic drinks and negligently handed him the keys to his vehicle, despite his being visibly intoxicated.

In this case, after consuming “copious amounts of alcohol” while at a casino resort, Moranko retrieved his car from the valet services and drove away from the property. He was then involved in a car accident that led to his death.

The casino filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Moranko had not shown they served him drinks while he was visibly intoxicated and that, under Pennsylvania law, there is no cause of action against a valet service for returning keys to a visibly intoxicated customer.

The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, and Moranko appealed. A panel of the PA Supreme Court affirmed the ruling, and Moranko sought reargument, which the Supreme Court granted. On appeal, Moranko argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact, and summary judgment should not have been granted in favor of the casino.

First, the court stated that the issue in this case is whether, under Pennsylvania law, the casino and valet service had a duty to withhold keys to a vehicle if the owner appears visibly intoxicated. Explaining that negligence involves a duty, breach of a duty, causation, and damages, the court went on to underscore that, as a question of law, the trial court determines whether there is a duty.

The court stated there is no evidence that the casino served Moranko alcohol before the accident. Nor is there evidence that, while Moranko was on the premises, the casino served him alcohol.

Next, the court reviewed Moranko’s arguments in support of the casino’s duty towards the decedent. First, the general concepts of “ordinary care” and public policy were rejected by the court, since there is no basis for relief in liability to third persons under the circumstances of this case.

Also, the court rejected the claim that internal policies within the casino created a legal duty. Those policies, the court stated, were relevant to keeping visibly intoxicated patrons from gambling on the casino floor.

The court turned to a decision of the Supreme Court of Nevada, holding that a parking lot attendant could not be liable for surrendering a car to its intoxicated owner.  There, the court dismissed a claim for wrongful death when a drunk driver killed a pedestrian. The heirs of the pedestrian sued the parking lot for surrendering the car with knowledge of the driver’s intoxicated state.

In that case, the court looked at the bailor-bailee relationship created by the collection of a fee, possession of keys, and assumption of the car. The bailee is duty-bound to surrender control of the car to the bailor upon demand. The determining factor is the right to control, and in this case, when the bailee loses the right to control the car, there is no duty to the intoxicated driver.

The court stated that when Moranko asked for his vehicle, the casino, as the bailee, lost the right to control the car. Since the casino had no right of control, they could not be liable for Moranko when the car returned to his possession. The court also cited the Nevada decision, specifically a comment that imposing civil liability in the circumstances here would be a slippery slope with “unforeseeable consequences.”

The court concluded that the casino had no power or duty to withhold the decedent’s keys. They affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the casino.

In negligence lawsuits, liability often turns on evidence demonstrating the existence of a duty. The personal injury attorneys at the Needle Law Firm represent plaintiffs seeking compensation for their losses. Contact our office today at 570-344-1266 or online for a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Superior Court Affirms “Absentee” Landlords Owed No Duty to Injured Guest, Scranton Personal Injury Law Blog, May 14, 2015

Pennsylvania Appellate Decision Reviews Home Insurers’ Right to Disclaim Liability in Teenage Auto Accident Case, Scranton Personal Injury Law Blog, April 16, 2015

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