By Jordan W. Charness

Peter had a great parking garage that he loved to park in. It was about a half a block from where he worked, the rates were reasonable, and it had valet service. Best of all, the valets who worked there were consistently happy, smiling and generally gave off an air of confidence and an indication that they liked their jobs.

Then, one day, everything changed. Peter walked in to find the normally smiling faces all sad and grumpy. They told him that the parking garage was being demolished to make way for a new condominium project.

All the cars that were parked in that garage were going to be moved over to the building next door. While no one would lose their jobs, there would be many more cars to park in a 14-story parking garage that was in a building that was about 80 years old. To make matters worse, it had no elevator and the valets would have to run up and down 14 flights of steps to do their jobs. To top it off, the change over would be happening in less than a week’s time. As of Monday morning, everybody had to move in to the building next door.

Aside from the general grumpiness of the people who did the valet parking, Peter did not think that the change would much affect him. So, on Monday morning, Peter presented himself and his car at the new building and brought along a dozen doughnuts for the people working there to help smooth the transition. Although they politely thanked him, he could see that they were having a difficult day and it was only nine o’clock in the morning.

The new parking building brought with it a host of problems. It had never been built with the idea of modern cars in mind. The access ramps were narrow, the lighting inadequate, and there were columns sticking out in the unlikeliest of places. The valet drivers very quickly tired of running up and down 14 flights of steps, and moving all those cars in extra crowded conditions became quite a chore.

Then on Wednesday, it happened. As they brought Peter’s car to him at the end of the day he immediately noticed that the side of the car had a good chunk of its paint scraped off. Before he could say a word the valet parker apologized and said that he had accidentally scraped the side of the car on a column in an unlit part of the garage. He said that he had immediately reported the accident to his boss who he was sure would take care of it.

The boss was away for a week, having left that afternoon. Peter came over to see me the next day with a copy of the contract that he had for parking at the parking garage. Paragraph seven of the contract stated that the garage was not liable for any damage to people’s cars no matter how the damage was caused. Peter was afraid that the owners of the parking garage might use that clause to try and escape paying for the repairs.

I explained to him that this type of clause in a standard form contract was of little value in a case such as his. While it might be used to protect the owners of the garage against the third-party who comes in and vandalized or steals from a parked car, this would not exonerate the owners of the garage from damages caused by their own employees while doing the job they were hired for — parking cars.

As it turned out, Peter had nothing to worry about, as the owner of the garage immediately took responsibility and undertook to have the car repaired and painted as soon as Peter was able to find the time to leave the car with them.

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