Magazine

Dealing With an Intoxicated Parking Patron

By Kathy Phillips

While valets are not bartenders and thus not held to the same responsibilities to avert customers from driving drunk, your company may have the potential to be brought into a lawsuit involving an intoxicated driver.
Parking and valet companies can increase good will and prevent escalation of issues by providing appropriate training to their employees and by establishing written policies and procedures regarding their responsibilities.
It is important that your employees know what they should and should not do in dealing with an alcohol-impaired customer.
The following information highlights how to recognize the signs of intoxication and offers methods for intervening with irrational or irate patrons.
Signs of Intoxication
While alcohol affects everyone differently, the signs of intoxication generally include:
• slurred or slowed speech
• being overly friendly
• tendency to lose a train of thought
• red eyes, inability to focus
• decreased alertness
• staggering or inability to walk
• fine motor skills are affected, such as being unable to light a cigarette or find a wallet
Dealing With Intoxicated Customers
It may be difficult at times to discern when a customer should not take the wheel and drive. Although valets are not legally responsible to stop a patron, they should be empowered to know how to handle the moment and provide a safe solution.
The following practical suggestions will help your employees control these types of situations.
• Tact and courtesy go a long way in preventing explosive situations – be respectful, even if the customer is not.
• Politely deny service and offer a taxi shuttle service or other alternatives.
• Be firm. Once you have refused service, do not bargain or back down.
• Avoid threatening statements, such as “You are drunk.” Instead, put the focus on yourself; for example, “If I let you drive, I could lose my job.”
• Demonstrate your concern for the patron’s well being, “I would like to help you get home safely.”
• Avoid physical contact – do not touch the customer, but maintain a polite distance.
• Stay calm and remain in control, and attend to other customers; keep the focus off the incident and on to a solution.
• If you cannot resolve the matter, follow your company’s policy regarding contacting authorities for help.
As a best practice, it is recommended that the valet company have an incident report form. Have your employee complete the form whenever there is a questionable event. This form should document the measures taken to control the suspected intoxicated person, and may help to defend liability in the event of an alcohol-related accident.
Parking Lots: Expect the Unexpected
The liability exposures in private parking lot owners and operators are numerous. Privately owned parking lots do not have the sovereign immunity protection enjoyed by public parking lots. Thus, private owners and the companies that operate the lots are often responsible for negligent acts that occur on their premises.
Anytime large numbers of people and vehicles are present in the same space, there is a potential for danger. The following are examples of potential dangers that, while different, have one thing in common – they can all potentially occur in a parking facility:
Situation 1: Overgrown shrubbery along the wall of a parking garage can create the perfect hiding place for a criminal waiting to attack an unsuspecting victim.
Solution: Trees and shrubs should be trimmed to a level that allows adequate line of site for lighting, cameras and security.
Situation 2: A father, while carrying his toddler, trips and falls on cracked concrete.
Solution: Walking surfaces in all areas should be maintained at all times, well-lighted and free of debris.
Situation 3: A pedestrian enters a dimly lighted parking garage and is nearly hit by an oncoming vehicle.
Solution: All entryways should provide a clear line of sight to traffic, plus adequate lighting and security cameras.
Parking lots are both convenient and potentially dangerous. To minimize problems, parking facility owners and operators should clearly implement effective loss-prevention measures and techniques, such as security cameras, adequate illumination, proactive traffic control, appropriate lane markings, etc.
Additionally, parking owners and operators must be certain they have adequate liability coverage for bodily injury and property damages that may arise from incidents at their facilities.
Kathy Phillips, CIC, CPP, is First Vice President of Alliant Insurance Services. She can be reached at kphillips@alliantinsurance.com.

Article Abstract from November, 2010




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