It’s a festive Friday night, you’re going out to dinner and you’ve just handed over the keys to one of the most expensive things you own, maybe the most expensive: your car.
To make matters worse, you’ve just turned the keys over to a complete stranger.
Have you ever considered all you have to lose when you hand over those keys?
Erika Camacho, a real estate professional, wife and mother from Texas has never enjoyed valet parking, but she never expected what happened to her last month.
“I told the valet parker, 'Hey, be careful. This is a pretty fast car. Not everybody knows how to drive it,'" Camacho said.
But when Camacho picked her car back up a couple days later, she could not believe her eyes.
“They drove my car up and I turned around and wow, I was boiling mad. I was pissed," she said. "They didn’t take care of my car. They wrecked it."
Camacho owns a $90,000 Mercedes Benz AMG that had suffered severe damage to the side of the car, with the metal torn up, scraped and cracked.
Not only that, but two of the four custom wheels were chewed up and bent from being rammed into something.
“Now I’m on the hook and responsible to pay the $1,000 deductible to get my car fixed," Camacho said. "Why should I be responsible when they damaged my car -- not me?"
Board-certified trial lawyers Brian Zimmerman and Jim Adler show five ways to protect your car from negligent valet companies.
Step One: Remove all valuables from inside your car before you valet it.
That includes expensive sunglasses, any firearms, cash, jewelry or your laptop computer or tablet.
Step Two: Before handing over the keys, take a couple pictures of your car from different angles.
“Take a couple of minutes to walk around your car and take pictures to prove that your car was in perfect shape when you handed over the keys, because the valet company is going to challenge you if there is any damage in the end," Adler said. "They are going to say the damage was already there, that they had nothing to do with damaging your ride and those pictures are going to be your proof that they are lying. Without those pictures, it’s your word against the valet company. And without those pictures, you are lost."
Step Three: When you pick up your car, walk around and check it for any damage. If there is damage, photograph it with your phone and put the company on notice.
“Point out to the valet company what damage has been done on the vehicle and ask for the valet company’s management and contact information and send them something in writing on that date confirming that property damage occurred.
Step Four: Send a demand letter to the valet company.
“Send a demand letter to the valet company and point out the nature of the property damage," Zimmerman said. "Number two, I would also recommend getting an estimate of the cost of repair. Three, I would give the valet company an adequate amount of time to address the situation and pay for the damage."
Step Five: If the demand letter doesn’t work, file a lawsuit in small claims court. You can do it all by yourself. You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a lawyer.
“You can absolutely file a case yourself and win," Zimmerman said.
As for Camacho, she just got a letter from the valet company that wrecked her car, saying the business won't pay for anything.
The company claims the damage to her car was already there when she drove in.
From now on, Camacho said, she will definitely take several pictures before giving up her keys to any valet.