Valet parking can be one of the most convenient ways to get in and out of a hotel.
But it does come with the risk of something happening to your vehicle since you are handing over the keys to someone that you probably have never even seen before.
So what happens if your car gets damaged while parked with the hotel valet? Is the hotel or valet driver responsible or will you be liable for the damage?
Let’s take a look at this question and provide some much-needed clarity.
Note: While I am a licensed attorney, nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.
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How to find out who is responsible for the damage to your vehicle
Are you dealing with the hotel or the valet service?
Typically, it’s not the driver individually who will be liable for damage but his or her employer.
So, one of the first things you want to clear up is whether or not the valet driver’s employer is the hotel or a third-party valet service company.
This will help you focus your communications and hone in on a potential insurance policy that would apply.
There are different types of insurance policies that could apply in these cases. But if it is your vehicle that has been damaged, chances are you will be dealing with something like a garage-keepers legal liability coverage.
Reputable valet companies should all have insurance policies that could cover most damage to your vehicle.
For example, the National Parking Association requires its members to carry at least $5 million in general and $1 million in legal liability coverage and there could even be individual state requirements as well.
Therefore, if they assume responsibility for the damage you should be able to just work through their insurance company to get reimbursed for any repairs.
After everything gets sorted out, the insurance company for the valet provider will probably end up sending a check to you or to the shop who will be repairing your vehicle and that will be the end of things.
The only problem is that this process is not always so easy.
Once you have narrowed down who is responsible, the next question is are they actually liable and can you prove it?
It’s not uncommon for damage claims against valet services to be difficult.
And that’s for a few reasons.
First, you could be dealing with limited evidence.
Unless you have photos or videos of your vehicle that show that the alleged damage was NOT there just before you handed it over, a valet company could simply claim that the damage was already there.
At the same time, if you don’t discover the damage until later on the valet company could claim that the damage occurred after they handed the vehicle back to you.
This is especially true when it comes to very minor scratches and scuffs that many people are willing to just blow off.
Sometimes there are cameras in the valet parking area (or a nearby business) that can be used to prove or disprove a claim but that is not always the case. This is why it is so important to always document the condition of your vehicle before and after you use valet.
Another issue is the release of liability.
Take a look at your valet ticket or the form you signed at the hotel and chances are you will see a release of liability for damage and theft for your vehicle.
Lots of people think that this means the valet company cannot be liable under any circumstances. That’s not necessarily the case.
If you could show that they were breaching the standard of care to you like failing to drive like a reasonable person then you could still have a claim against them. For example, if they hit another vehicle or a post in a parking garage, you should be able to pursue a claim against them for negligent driving.
These things can depend on state laws, insurance policies, etc. but the point is to not be scared off because of some release of liability.
Another reason why it is tough to make a claim is that the damage could have been caused by a third-party. For example, someone (not associated with the valet company or hotel) could have hit your car while it was parked with the valet.
If that’s the case then you likely don’t have a claim against the valet company and you would need to rely on collision damage waiver or speak with your insurance company.
If you had a rental car, did you have a collision damage waiver?
Collision damage waiver is a form of insurance that protects you against damage or theft for your vehicle. It’s a popular policy to get when renting a vehicle.
You can get this policy from the rental car company or if you have a good travel rewards credit card, you could have this protection built-in to your credit card (assuming that you used it to purchase the rental car).
The big question with these policies is whether or not they cover damage from a valet driver.
If you look at the policy like the one from Chase, you’ll see that the collision damage waiver applies to the “primary renter of the vehicle, and any additional drivers permitted by the Rental Car Agreement.”
Other times, you’ll see the language that the benefit only applies whenever the vehicle is “under your control.”
Because the valet driver is likely not mentioned on your rental car agreement and because the vehicle is not under your control after they take possession of it, it could easily be argued that the collision damage waiver does not apply when a valet driver is driving your rental vehicle.
This may not be the case with every collision damage waiver but it’s definitely something to be on the lookout for.
If you can get coverage with this waiver, then that can be a good route to go before relying on your insurance company because it can help reduce your premium going up.
What if the hotel or valet service denies liability?
If the valet driver is clearly at fault then the insurance company for the hotel or the valet service should acknowledge that and be willing to work with you to reimburse you for the damage they caused.
This will probably be the likely outcome when fault is clearly established because the insurance company knows that they could be sued or pursued by your own insurance company if they refuse to pay up.
But there may be situations where fault is not clearly established or evidence is lacking. In these cases, you may not be able to get the insurance company for the valet driver to cover the damage without a fight.
You could try to get collision damage waiver to kick in for a rental car but as we already pointed out it may not apply for valet incidents.
In the end, you may be left to contact your own auto insurance company about coverage. The drawback here is that it could result in an increased premium and you may have to pay your deductible. So if the damage is minor then it may not be worth it.
If you were just dealing with minor damage, then you could contact the hotel or their corporate offices to request some type of compensation in the form of a refund or potentially even a special credit or points.
Perhaps you are able to touch up the scratches with some touchup paint and getting a few thousand points could be all you need to feel satisfied.
What to do if your vehicle gets damaged by a hotel valet
If you want to increase your odds of having a successful claim when your vehicle is damaged by valet, here are some important steps.
First, as we already talked about you want to document the status of your vehicle before you hand it over and after you receive it. An easy way to do this is to just record a video as you walk around the vehicle.
Lots of times scuffs, dents, and scratches occur on the rims and the bumper areas of the vehicle so pay special close attention to those. You could also do a quick run through on the inside of your vehicle.
As soon as you detect damage, you want to confront the hotel or valet service company and let them know that you believe they are responsible for the damage. Get all of their contact information, insurance information, and fill out any paperwork needed to file a claim.
At that point, it’s just a matter of seeing how they respond.
They could take ownership of the situation and have you fill out some paperwork to begin the reimbursement process or they could deny fault which means that you will need to take some additional steps.
If a valet denies responsibility then ask if they have security cameras and take a look around for nearby businesses to see if they have them as well.
You could file a police report but a lot of times police officers may not file a report for you if it is a minor damage situation (that is purely a civil matter). For example, if the damage is simply a flat tire that’s not probably worth a police report. But if there are broken windows and mirrors, body damage, etc., that’s a different story.
Take extra effort to take all the photos and video that you can and again make sure that you get all of the contact information from the valet and hotel. Also, try to put a timeline together immediately while your memory is fresh so that you can reconstruct the story later on.
If the valet service is separate from the hotel consider talking to the hotel about the situation. Sometimes the hotel may be willing to take initiative to help sort things out and they could be a big help.
However, you need to be very careful about any statements you make because they could be considered admissions which could work against you later on.
Basically, if you don’t feel like a hotel is going to be on your side or you tend to say things without thinking them through, it may be best to just end the conversation with them.
The next step would be to contact your insurance company and see what they could do for you. They will likely want a statement from you which should be easy to supply if you already made up your timeline of events.
You could always decide to handle it yourself and hire a lawyer to sue them but that’s typically not the best option if you have an insurance company who can work on your behalf.
If a valet service at a hotel damages your vehicle, it’s not always the easiest thing to prove. However, if you took steps to document the status of your vehicle before turning it in and after receiving it, you will have more evidence to stand on.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.