Living well isn’t always easy.
Just ask Duane Jessee, a longtime user of valet services at restaurants and hotels.
“It always seemed worth paying a little extra money for that convenience,” he said, especially when unloading luggage.
So the Bloomington, Ill., man opted for the $27-a-day valet service when he stayed at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel a few weeks ago.
It could cost him much more, and he’s entangled in insurance drudgery stemming from what he says was an errant valet driver.
He parked his 2014 BMW 335i xDrive Gran Turismo outside the posh Central West End hotel on July 31 after returning from dinner at Juniper and handed over his keys in the valet parking area.
Then Jessee’s brother-in-law opened the driver’s side back door. Before he set foot on the ground, a valet-driven SUV struck the open door, bending it forward and hitting the driver’s door, Jessee said.
“I’d never even thought about the ramifications of what would happen if an accident happened while with the valet staff,” said Jessee, 52.
Those ramifications are on his mind a lot these days. He said he has spent at least 70 hours sending emails, making phone calls, researching laws and getting estimates. One estimate is for $2,600 from a body shop to replace his car door’s shell, which has a bent frame, and to repair the damage to the car’s body from the door hitting it.
The Chase contracts with Maryland-based Towne Park company, which touts itself as “valet parking and parking management experts” with more than 650 locations, for its valet services.
The hotel was quick to tell Jessee that it wasn’t liable for the damage. But after employees reviewed video of what happened, the hotel decided to have a claim opened with its insurance company, Jessee said.
Phone messages left by the Post-Dispatch with the Chase Park Plaza and Towne Park employees were not returned.
After multiple calls and emails from Jessee, Towne Park eventually responded that it’s not going to pay either, he said.
“After evaluation of the facts, we can only conclude that there is no evidence provided to prove without question that liability falls on Towne Park. There is no indication of negligence on the part of the Towne Park employee,” says the letter from the company’s claim department. “Therefore, we must respectfully decline to make any payment to you on this claim.”
The letter said the most “expedient course of action” would be to file a claim with his insurance company to get his car repaired.
And Jessee did. So he’s on the hook for his $1,000 deductible, at least for now.
“It’s $1,000 out of my pocket for as long as this takes, or I may never see payment,” he said.
He said his insurance company, Country Financial, is going to get a deposition from his brother-in-law before determining if it wants to fight Towne Park’s denial.
If so, Country can then go through the process of subrogation, in which an insurance company seeks reimbursement from the responsible party for a claim it paid.
Such a process is routine, said Jim Camoriano, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance, which is not involved in the dispute and insures the most vehicles in Missouri.
“Insurance companies do this a lot on behalf of the customer,” he said.
He said drivers whose cars get damaged by valets should get as much information as possible, including taking notes on the time, date and place the damage occurred, as well as the names of witnesses.
Towne Park said in the letter that a final, binding decision would be made through arbitration.
Jessee said he doubted he’d go to the trouble of hiring an attorney, and would likely chalk it up to a lesson learned.
“You could really find yourself paying a lot of money out of pocket for something you never expected,” he said of that lesson.
Will he ever use a valet service again?
“I’m going to be very hesitant.”