Citation. 668 S.W.2d 286 (Tenn. 1984)
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Brief Fact Summary.
Appellee (Plaintiff) parked his car in a single entrance/ single exit parking garage taking a ticket and leaving his car locked. When he returned his car was gone.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A bailment for hire was created in this case and when there was non-delivery the Appellee (Plaintiff) was entitled to the presumption of negligence provided by statute.
The Appellant (Defendant) owned and operated a large downtown hotel along with a parking garage which was open to the public and hotel guests alike. The public could park its cars there and pay an amount upon leaving based on the amount of time the car was parked. In this case Appellee (Plaintiff) parked his brand new 1981 car in the parking garage which had one entrance and one exit. The entrance had a ticket machine which provided a ticket to be held by the driver of the car and stated that charges were made for the parking space only, that Appellant (Defendant) assumed no responsibility for loss through fire, theft, collision or otherwise to the car or its contents. The ticket also instructed the driver to lock his vehicle. The tickets were only used to determine the amount of money owed based upon the time that the vehicle was parked in the garage. The exit was a booth manned by an attendant. When Appellee (Plaintiff) returned to the garage, he found his car was missing. A
ppellee then approached the exit booth where the attendant stated that the car did not come through. The theft was reported to security guards employed by Appellant (Defendant) who stated that they did receive an earlier report of suspicious activity, which was investigated but did not result in any actionable discovery of wrongdoing. The police were subsequently notified. The vehicle was never recovered. Appellee (Plaintiff) sued and prevailed in both the trial court and the intermediate appeals court. The two lower courts both found that a bailment was created and that a presumption of negligence attached to the Defendant upon the non-delivery of the car.
Does the act of parking one’s car in a parking garage create a bailment?
Yes. Judgment affirmed.
The Court must determine the legal relationship created by the parking of the car in the garage. First, the Court examined the status of the law in other jurisdictions, noting that New Jersey courts have adopted a rule outside of the traditional bailment concepts in park-and-lock cases. In New Jersey, the owner of a garage is subject to a presumption of negligence upon proof that a car parked in the defendant’s garage was damaged. The New Jersey approach shifts the burden of proof to the defendant to prove that there was no breach of a standard of reasonable care. The Tennessee Court here rejected such an approach although it noted that the same policy considerations were present in both rules.
The Court found that a bailment for hire was created in this case when the property was left in Appellant’s (Defendant) parking garage. A bailment is created when the owner of a chattel gives custody and control over the chattel to another to hold until the owner requests delivery. The bailee (or recipient) is under an obligation to return the object. In this case the failure of Appellant (Defendant) to deliver the car upon Appellee’s (Plaintiff) return subjected the Appellant to a statutory presumption of negligence. The Court noted that the fact that Appellee (Plaintiff) kept the keys to the vehicle raised a question as to the completeness of the bailment, but resolved the question in favor of Appellee (Plaintiff). Thus, the burden of proof shifted to Appellant (Defendant), who did not endeavor to prove a lack of negligence in this case.
The Court recognizes the difficulty of establishing a rule to govern all cases involving parking lots. The Court found that the facts here were sufficient to establish more than a mere licensor-licensee relationship. Thus, the Appellee (Plaintiff) was entitled to recover damages for the non-delivery of the car.
The dissent would hold that a bailment is created only when the owner of a parking garage has knowingly and voluntarily assumed custody and control of a motor vehicle. The mere act of taking a ticket upon exit is not sufficient to “return” a bailment, because the attendant was not required to particularly identify the object of the bailment, but only to compute the amount of money owed for the time on the ticket.
Consideration of the type of relationship created in this transaction is crucial. It is useful to consider the elements of bailment, as well as elements of contract. These types of cases have been decided in a variety of