Case dismissed: Why won’t Ace Parking pay for my damage?

Parking garage damage is a popular sub-genre of complaint on this site. It seems every month I get a request for help from a hotel guest who valet-parked their car and had it returned with a ding or dent.

Take Nikki Browning, for example. She recently valeted her Volvo while she was a guest at the Se San Diego Hotel. The Se is a luxury property in the Gaslamp District where it costs $36 a night to park, which is among the most expensive rates in town.

Shortly after I checked out and left valet, I noticed that the rear bumper of my car had sustained damage. It looked like the valet backed my car into something in the garage.

The bumper had two large scratches and the paint chipped off in two sections.

Of course, the valet said nothing and let me drive off with my car in this condition. I immediately called the hotel and reported the damage. The hotel manager referred me to the parking company and told me to file a claim with them.

Several days later, a representative from Ace Parking called her. She filed a claim with them, sent them photos of the damage and also got an estimate to repair her back bumper. The repair cost came to $455.

But Ace Parking denied her claim, saying that she did not report the damage to the valet when she left the garage and that there was insufficient evidence it had caused the damage. The company pointed to a disclaimer she’d received with her valet ticket that limited its liability.

Browning then contacted a manager at the Se to make her case. The manager said the hotel wasn’t responsible for the damage and referred her back to Ace Parking.

However, I paid the Se San Diego to valet my car. It seems unfair that they are refusing responsibility, since I paid the hotel directly for parking. I spent approximately $825 at the hotel during this stay.

Does this sound right to you?

It isn’t unusual for a hotel to outsource its valet parking, and it appeared Ace Parking was denying her claim on a technicality. So I contacted Ace to get its side of the story. I heard back from a claims manager, who reiterated the company’s firm denial.

She did not report her claim prior to leaving the facility. There are times when we deny claims that aren’t reported prior to leaving the hotel but we don’t just automatically deny claims for that reason.

We do our own investigation and there are many claims where we are able to determine that we did cause the damage in question. When that is the case we do accept full liability.

Sometimes there is video evidence, witness evidence or even physical evidence that allows us to know or at least feel sure it did happen while under our care.

So Ace is suggesting its own investigation on her damaged Volvo showed it didn’t cause the damage, and that it may have been pre-existing.

End of the story? Not quite. Ace was so upset that Browning was continuing to pursue her claim, it felt that it needed to give her a piece of its mind. Browning followed up with me a few hours later:

A manager at Ace Parking called me, irate that I had contacted the hotel. He asked me what was wrong with me and why I was “wasting my time pursuing this ridiculous claim.”

It got so bad that I actually ended the conversation by hanging up on him. Talk about customer service!

I’d love it if you could write something about this to warn other travelers about the Se San Diego or the perils of valet parking at hotels. I now know to fully inspect my car every time the valet hands me the key.

My pleasure. There’s no reason — none whatsoever — to yell at a customer. Unless there’s a fire in the building, and even then, you do it politely.

So, bad Ace for losing your temper with Browning.

And I agree, of course, that you should always check for damage when you pick up the car. You’ll find a lot of parking services inspect your car before they take it and ask you to sign a receipt. Why not do the same thing yourself?

(Photo: dix ie law/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Absherlock

    The OP made a mistake by not checking the car before she left the hotel. That being said, if she made a call to the hotel as soon as she noticed the damage (especially if it was within hours of getting the car back), I think she’d stand a good chance of winning in small claims court. It would then make sense for Ace to just submit her claim to their insurance.

    And I think Se’s claim that they aren’t responsible because they subcontract out to Ace is total crap. They took the money for the service and the service was offered at their location. If it were that easy to avoid blame, why wouldn’t they just make all of their employees “subcontractors”?

  • deemery

    A long time ago, I had my car -stolen- from valet parking at a Hyatt, on my first business trip.  If I only knew then what I know now…

  • john4868

    Sorry but at the point she drove away she accepted any damage on the vehicle. Just like if you drive a rental car off the lot without inspecting it, you own any damage.

    The sad fact is that she couldn’t prove that the damage came from the valet (it could have existed before the valet touched it and we don’t know how long it took her to report it). Also most valet company’s claim tickets have that lovely statement that they can’t be held accountable for any damage as a condition of using their service.

    While I don’t necessarily agree with the position, it is understandable from the business sense. No one would pay for valet where you have a joint 15 min inspection of the vehicle. Since our society has now dropped to the point as Greg House stated it best “All people lie,” the only way to provide the service is to deny every claim where a valet doesn’t fess up to doing it.

  • LadySiren

    The Se should have aided the OP, who just dropped a fair amount of coin at their establishment, in working with Ace. Yes, the OP made a mistake in driving away but for a small bill ($455 isn’t that large), the hotel and Ace could’ve bought themselves a lot of goodwill and some repeat business.

    Good to know which hotel I *WON’T* be recommending to my clients when they have to travel to their next tradeshow in San Diego. Based on client preference, we usually give them a short list of upscale accommodations; the last time around, it included several hotels in the Gaslamp District. Too bad the Se won’t be on that list next time around.

  • Raven

    Hope the hotel and their third-rate parking service enjoy the bad press. It was certainly deserved after the Ace manager called the customer and was rude to her!

  • Kaley

    She should have inspected the car before she left.  According to her receipt, once she left the lot, they were off the hook.  She missed the boat.  However, after the berating from the Ace manager, the company ought to do something as a goodwill gesture.

  • Psbgsa

    People need to wise up. Whether renting a car or having someone park mine I inspect before and after. I rented a car one way in Orlando last that came from New York. When I went to the lot it was a mess. I took pictures and when I returned the car showed them to the rental agent. Be prepared!

  • MeanMeosh

    The problem is, the garage used by the valet probably isn’t for the exclusive use of hotel valet guests.  I’m guessing it’s also a public garage.  It’s probably darn near impossible to say who actually caused the bumper damage; it could have been someone off the street trying to park in the garage and not paying attention.  Not saying that could or should excuse the parking company’s liability (I’m not a lawyer), but I can see Ace’s position here.  That being said, the garage manager being rude is unacceptable.  She at least deserves an apology for that, if not some kind of token goodwill gesture.

  • David L

    So, the next time I have a claim that has very little merit, I’m just going to add at the end to my letter to Chris that on top of everything that happened, my feelings were hurt!

    Sorry people, I don’t buy it…Just because a manager does not tell you what you want to hear does not mean he/she is being rude.

  • Guest

    I’m torn with this one.  One the one hand she didn’t check the car and therefore the parking company isn’t liable.  On the other hand I don’t really think it’s fair to expect customer’s to pay for valet at a hotel (and often at fancy hotels valet is the ONLY parking option) and then when they get their car to spend a good 5-10 inspecting it for damage. 

    I think for the small cost of the damage the hotel and/or parking company should have covered it. 

  • Brooklyn

    “What’s wrong with you?” “Why are you pursuing this ridiculous claim?” This
    definitely qualifies as rudeness; if I were the OP, I’d worry.  The manager now has
    her name, home phone number and presumably her address.  What might he do next? 
    This happened to me years ago with a complaint about a mechanic. He made obscene phone calls
    for months and after I reported him to his boss (who didn’t fire him!), he
    connected the gas and fuel lines on my car in an effort to kill me.  And yes, I
    reported it to the police and no, they did nothing.  The OP needs to be very
    careful for the next few months.

  • Alan

    I just spent a week in San Diego, which is fortunately a highly walkable city. It had to be, because there is very little public parking, especially garages, in the downtown area. We left our car at our hotel the whole week and walked everywhere, from Balboa Park to Little Italy to the Embarcadero.

  • Brooklyn

    oops – I meant the gas and oil lines!

  • Kajaco2

    What did Ace’s investigation turn up? Have they provided the OP with transcripts or original recordings of interviews with the employees on duty at that time? Documentation of where the car was parked and photos of the surrounding area? She’s provided adequate proof that there was damage, and while it isn’t up to them to prove a negative, what evidence did they uncover that let them know they didn’t damage her car?

  • L2y2

    I find it strange that she saw the damage when she picked up the car and didn’t say anything. She should have reported it immediately, not after she left the garage. It would be different if she hadn’t noticed it until later. It is unfortunate she can’t prove the damage was done in the garage. Although I feel that ACE acted inappropriately and unprofessionally, I am not sure they are liable for the damages. On the note of her calling the hotel, she had every right to call and complain about the parking service. The hotel is ultimately responsible for its contract services. I hope the hotel reconsiders its contract with ACE, based on its management practices alone.

  • Kimrod219

    File a claim in small claims court. Likely neither the hotel nor Ace will appear and default judgement will be awarded to the OP.  The “disclaimer” on these parking receipts is typically found to not be enforceable according to my attorney friends. 

  • Joe Farrell

    The reason they want you to report your damage immediately is because everyone has cameras everywhere and they retain them in the event of a claim – if they took her keys regardless of what the form states they have liability for damage – but she will need to prove that they caused it . . . . thats always the hard part.  

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    So many companies are passing the buck more and more in an effort to reduce their financial liability.  It’s also remarkable how much liability lessening language they are able to get on the one little valet ticket.

    Valet=license to drive any car they damn well please however they wish.

    Ace should have paid the claim, with very little questions asked.  The bad press they’re receiving as a result is going to cost them FAR more than $455 in auto repairs.  There’s an accounting entry called “Good Will” and this falls under that.

    However, the hotel certainly has some liability in this.  Yes, they contract out the valet parking but this is an amenity they opted to offer their guests.  If they’re going to offer it, they need to advocate for their guests rather than just passing the buck.  Step one for the hotel would be to let the parking company know they don’t appreciate employees of the parking company harassing their guests or they’ll invalidate the contract they have with them in favor of a more customer service friendly company.

    I hope the parking company and the hotel, in light of this appearing on your extremely well-read blog, decide to do the right thing and fix this woman’s car.  If she’s already had it fixed through her insurance, then reimburse her the deductible she had to pay.

    Mental note when in San Diego the next time – don’t stay at Se San Diego…  Mental note as a travel writer – don’t EVER give Se San Diego any good press.

  • MikeZ

    You need to read the story again. It clearly says that she called immediately after noticing the damage.

    To me, when a hotel charges you for a valet service (sometimes you feel as though it is required) then they have to bear some responsibility with the company they contract with. Also, for $36 a night, there better be some security cameras to view.

    The lesson here is to just do a quick check of your car when you get it. Damage such as this would have been easily noticable by merely walking around the car. A spotlight inspection wouldn’t have been necessary.

  • Sasha

    It would seem that the hotel has some responsibility in this.  She paid them, not the garage.  I think it would beneficial for her to continue to pursue the hotel.

  • Brownlunchsack

    I used to work for a Valet company in LA at an upscale hotel. We had video recordings at the valet stand and any claim like the one in this article would be reviewed by looking at the video of the car upon arrival and comparing it with the video of the car departing. I would be surprised if the Se didn’t have a similar video system. Finding those videos should remedy the situation (if they exist).

    That being said, rudeness is unacceptable and this is very bad publicity for the Se.

  • sunshipballoons

    “A manager at Ace Parking called me, irate that I had contacted the
    hotel. He asked me what was wrong with me and why I was ‘wasting my time
    pursuing this ridiculous claim.'”

    –When I read things like this, it makes me almost certain that the entire story is either fabricated or drastically misrepresented. 

  • MarkieA

    How did he get access to your car? Please don’t tell me that you continued to go back to the same shop!

  • Sershev

    The bad part of this: nobody makes a hotel choise based on who is providing parking services there. And when we’re parking at a hotel, there is only one parking provider there. So, it doesn’t really matter if Ace gets bad publicity, they will still see the same customer flow.

  • JRR

    Setting aside who is at fault for the damage…One of the side issues I would like to see Chris address is why the hotel feels like they can wash their hands of this.  If her bill for parking the car is paid to the hotel, they should be in the middle trying to help resolve this.

  • SoBeSparky

    Who has time, checking out, rushing to airport to check in car, or get on the road, etc.?

    Well, it would take one minute to walk around the car when you check-in and take pictures on your iPhone or equivalent.  Ditto, when you check out.  Then file notice of claim on the spot based on photos.  I am not a lawyer, but this sure sounds like a better offense that saying I was too busy to look.

  • Clare

    And if she had reported it to them right away, right there in the garage, they would have insisted that it was pre-existing damage and refused her claim anyway.  Wanna bet?
    Thank you Chris, for giving them the negative coverage that they fully deserve.

  • LindaJ

    The great thing about technology is it’s instantaneous!  I always photograph my car in front of the valet and even in a photo with my cellphone.  This is one way to insure good service and no dents!

  • Brooklyn

    I had to – my car insurance was paying for damage repair after an accident.  They’d already paid the garage, but the work wasn’t done right; I had to go back 5 or 6 times and the mechanic was angry that I’d made him look bad for failing to fix the problem. I was 19 years old, had no money to go elsewhere and was pretty much over a barrel.

  • Brooklyn

    Why do you assume that everyone has an “iPhone or equivalent”?  Not everyone even has a cell phone that takes photos, and some people don’t have digital cameras or, if they do, don’t carry them everywhere they go.

  • Michael K

    Maybe the onus ought to be on valet companies to have cameras at the dropoff/pickup points to document the condition of the vehicles upon receipt and return.

  • badbadwebbis

    It seems the customer is always wrong when it comes to cars…I remember a few cases that Chris has mentioned in the past where the customer is surprised by a bill from a car rental company saying that the customer caused X amount of damage, even though they accepted the car back and signed off on the condition. Why is okay for rental companies to find post-service damage but not the client? It feels sometimes that the burden of proof in almost every situation is on the customer, not the company.


  • SallyLu

    I don’t really get your logic.  You seem to be saying that unless the valet fesses up, the parking company can’t possibly be held responsible?  Also, as has been mentioned in the past, just because the have the disclaimer on their ticket doesn’t mean it is right or enforcable. 

  • SallyLu


  • Meredith Putvin

     It’s called reasonable doubt. Unless it is reported immediately, there is no proof that it happened in the garage. Not saying the Customer is lying, but there is no proof.

  • Waynedaytonmedia

    The Se is simply another in a line of over-priced, pretentious, arrogant, so-called “boutique” and “upscale” hotels where, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, service is non-existent. No way that I would EVER stay at this hotel seeing as how they stand back and do nothing whatsoever to help the customer.  Great customer service – not.  As for Ace, calling back a client and verbally berating them — another great lesson in corporate incompetence.  The OP should take BOTH Ace and Se to Small Claims Court, joint and several liability, as well as do whatever possible, via this site and others, to warn others and, hopefully, one day, one or both will get to read the oft-read chapter of Frank Lorenzo’s autobiography….Chapter 11.

  • andrelot

    I will not vote on the poll since I don’t think there is a way to know whether the damage was caused in the parking lot or not.

    In any case, I have troubles with this “call da’ contractor” attitude of many business in the travel industry. It shouldn’t be up to the costumer to venture out with different parties trying to shift responsibility. If a hotel advertises parking in the premises and charges for it, it should be able to handle complaints about parking.

    A customer-centered hotel would put some cameras in the parking lot, subcontract the parking and impose hefty fines on the subcontractor should a car be mishandled.

    However, I fear maybe we’ll soon read about a hotel directing the costumer to call the cleaning company (no English-speaking representatives) since maid service on the Punta Cana resort was subcontracted to a local enterprise.

  • Neil

    I worked for several years as a valet parking attendant and supervisor in Las Vegas, Reno and Beverly Hills. I can tell you that standard practice in the event a valet damages a car is “DON’T bring the car up until a supervisor has a chance to inspect the vehicle.” The prime reason for this is so the supervisor can check to see if the damage can be hidden from the customer until they drive off the property. Once you drive off the property, you have almost no chance of winning a damage claim.

    Always, always, ALWAYS walk all the way around your car when the valet brings it to you. If it seems like it’s taking a long time or a guy who looks like a supervisor is the one who brings you your car be EXTRA vigilant about inspecting for damage. We would do all sorts of things to get customers into the best position to not see the damage: opposite side of the car, poorly lit area, distract the customer by talking to them as the car was brought up.

    To be fair to valet companies, we also frequently had people bring us damaged cars then try to file a damage claim on us as well. That’s why many big Vegas properties now automatically photograph EVERY vehicle that comes into valet from all sides before the customer walks away from the vehicle.

  • Billy Bob Jerk

    oops – that STILL doesn’t make sense!

  • Billy Bob Jerk

    I like this.  When you are leaving a pay parking facility at the airport there is always a camera photographing your license plate.  Why don’t valet companies have similar cameras at both the front and back of the car.?  Storing 4 digital photos per customer (2 at dropoff and 2 at pickup) would not be difficult and would take care of 90% of damage claims.

  • Billy Bob Jerk

    With a name like “Se” it sounds boutique-y and pretentious!

    However I’m not sure about your litigation strategy. 

    I think maybe the OP should sue just one party at a time, thereby doubling her chances of getting a default judgement because the defendant doesn’t show up.  Start with the hotel, and if they do show up, of course they will point the finger at Ace.  Then sue Ace.  Each time she has a fighting chance of them not showing up. 

    If, however, the structure is OWNED by the hotel (not stated in article), then in that case I say sue them jointly and allege the hotel should have security cameras in the structure to help adjudicate this type of claim.  Then, let the court decide who is responsible.

  • Carver


    True, but if the hotel begins expending too much time and manpower in dealing with ACE they will find someone else

  • Carver


    Bad strategy

    You cannot sue different defendants for the same issue in different litigations.  The same transaction rule bars such conduct.

    You are required to sue everyone in one litigation.

  • Pauletteb

    The bad publicity will cost the hotel far more than paying the claim would have. The “we’re not responsible for subcontractors” argument is pure BS. Yes, the OP should have checked the car before driving off, but that shouldn’t let the valet service totally off the hook. Their “explanation” for denying her claim is also BS. Their letter mentions video, witness, and other “evidence” but doesn’t present any of these to support their denial. The Se and any other hotel using this valet company are permanently off my list.

  • Tampa_Jim

    I agree on going to small claims court. As for insurance, these days many people, including myself, have a $500 deductible on their collision policy. And even if the deductible is an amount below $500, filing a claim could result in the insurance company raising rates or cancelling coverage. 

  • Matt

    As a valet myself I can tell you that the legal wording on the back of the valet ticket means absolutely nothing in court. Valet companies just put it there to discourage claims, and it works! Claims are very costly, especially those carried into court as the valet company is forced to lawyer up. The decision is really up to the judge’s discretion and how much evidence the plaintiff presents. However the best thing to do is to AVOID VALETING YOUR CAR AT ALL COSTS! and if you are forced to valet inspect, inspect, and inspect for damages. Valet companies are dirty, trust me, they’ll do/say whatever to avoid claims. I once, regretfully, had an incident with a customers car and after telling my manager he told me “it’s only a scratch, she won’t notice until a few weeks from now” (and by then it’s too late to file a claim) I couldn’t let him do that and told him I’d tell the customer myself if he didn’t. Moral of the story: DON’T VALET

  • drohmann

    Just an FYI I know for a fact that most of the time the customer is so Irate and will not let the manager get a word in that they have no choice but to end the converstaion, because it is not going anywhere. She could done the damage her self and just wanted to cash in on it, lets be honest it is the world we live in today. It is common sense to check out your car before you leave the property I am only 25 and know this.

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  • Robyn Canady

    I noticed the damage and reported it before I left Loews Philadelphia Hotel, they still won’t take responsibility for it even though they admitted there was no damage noted when they took my car to park it.