Valet parking is a convenience we all take for granted. Rather than circling around and searching for a parking spot, someone else assumes the burden so we can quickly get into a restaurant or up to our hotel room.
But when that wet-behind-the-ears valet driver takes the keys from your hand, who’s responsible if the car is damaged during the parking process?
“If a valet driver damages your car, the valet company can be held financially responsible,” says Carole Walker, executive director of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
Such claims are paid through the valet company’s liability insurance policy, says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.
“If a valet parking attendant is an actual employee of a parking company, then the financial burden of insurance must fall upon the parking company,” Worters says.
Some valet companies use contractors as drivers. In such cases, the insurance burden might fall on the contractor, Worters says. Valet companies may ask contractors to take out insurance before working for them, she says.
Of course, in order to be reimbursed by the valet company, you’ll have to clearly show that the damage occurred when your car was being parked, Walker says. The valet service may deny causing the damage, she says.
If you notice damage to your car after it has been parked by a valet, report it immediately so there’s less chance of a dispute, Worters says.
"Make sure to inspect your car before you leave the parking lot,” she says. “If the damage is severe, report it with the police.”
If the valet company insists it isn’t responsible for the damage, it’s time to call your own car insurance company, says Lori Conarton, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute of Michigan.
If they refuse to pay, the policyholder’s own policy would likely handle it, and then seek reimbursement from the valet company,” Conarton says.
The process of seeking reimbursement is known as subrogation. If the insurer succeeds in getting money from the valet service, any deductible you paid on your original claim likely will be refunded to you.
Remember, your own insurance policy will cover the damages only if you carry collision coverage. Collision is the type of insurance that reimburses you for damages to your car after it crashes with other cars or objects.
If you don’t have collision coverage, you probably are out of luck and will be responsible paying damages out of your pocket.
Walker says: “The key is really to make sure you have adequate insurance to protect yourself in this and all other driving situations.”
Taking a few basic precautions can reduce the odds of a valet-related mishap.
For starters, it’s important to know whether the valet service has the proper liability insurance. Most restaurants, hotels and larger establishments have adequate insurance coverage under a business policy, Walker says.
However, the best way to make sure any valet service is properly insured is to ask whether the company is bonded and to see proof of insurance.
“It is up to you if you want to take steps to find out if there is appropriate coverage – especially if it is somewhere you regularly park,” she says.
California’s Orange County Auto Theft Task Force also suggests using a “valet key” if you have one. Some cars are equipped with these keys, which can be used only to park a vehicle and cannot open the trunk.
Before turning over the keys to a valet driver, lock all valuables in the trunk. Better yet, leave them at home.
If you suspect that a valet driver has swiped property from your car, alert the valet manager or the manager of the restaurant, hotel or other business associated with the valet service.