When it floods, is valet responsible for where it parks your car?

She says the valet is responsible for letting her car flood during a storm. The company says it was an act of God. So who's right?
November 15, 2013 8:27:50 PM PST
Here in Houston, when it rains, it pours and that can mean flooding. Just ask some folks who parked their cars recently with the valet at Houston's Omni hotel. But who should be responsible for the damage?

Many vehicles flooded when the valet crew parked a number of cars and SUVs in the lower lot of the Omni Hotel. Some personal insurance policies covered those vehicles, but one driver says it wasn't enough and claims the valet company should be held accountable for more.

On September 20, the skies opened. Our own weather team had given plenty of warning. So when Meredith Benson arrived at the Omni Hotel for her wedding, she was not going to let the rains put a damper on her special day. When she arrived...

"I dropped my car with the valet service, Towne Park valet service at the Omni," she said.

Benson says the valet parked her car and she went to a rehearsal dinner that evening. But a few hours later...

"People started talking about cars getting flooded in the bayou. And how the valet company had parked our cars right next to the bayou and now they were flooded," she said.

Benson says these pictures she took are what the parking lot looked like that evening. Buffalo Bayou runs next to it, and flooded. So did Benson's car.

"The seats we all soaking wet," she said.

"There's no real protection there once the bayou, once Buffalo gets really up from a big flood," Rice University Professor Phil Bedient said.

Bedient has been studying Houston flooding for years and says he knows that area well.

"It's happened multiple times as far as I'm aware of," he said.

Benson says valet representatives handed her, and others whose cars had flooded, forms to put in a claim with Town Parke's insurance company. But Benson's wasn't approved. The company said it was an "act of God" and not their responsibility.

"I received a phone call about two days later saying that I needed to file a claim with my insurance carrier," Benson said.

The People's Lawyer, Richard Alderman, tells us if a tree falls on your car or it's struck by lightning, the valet is not responsible.

"Ordinarily, a valet wouldn't be responsible for an act of God," he said.

However...

"If there was a part of a parking lot that had flooded, and it started raining, and the valet didn't act reasonably to move the car, or the valet parked it there knowing that it might flood, then it doesn't matter if it's an act of God; the valet was negligent and the valet would be responsible."

In fact, the area flooded again on Halloween. Our cameras captured images of the valet parking lot after that area received four inches of rain.

We reached out to Towne Park valet for comment. The company gave us this statement:

"This adverse act of nature which impacted the Omni Houston and their guests was unforeseeable and was responded to as swiftly as possible to minimize the impact. Our company continues to work with the individuals affected to resolve and address their individual concerns."

Benson tells us her insurance carrier totaled her car but only paid her $8,000 for it.

"I'm still going to end up having to pay $10,000 out of pocket for a replacement vehicle," she said.

The Omni Hotel told us they have been working with the valet company to better understand the events that occurred in September and has adjusted their operating procedures. They are also working with city authorities to receive earlier warnings of potential flooding.

As for our bride with her washed-out ride, she tells us she believes the valet company was negligent and is looking into seeking legal action.


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