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Can You Prove Fault in a Parking Lot Auto Accident?


While drivers often dispute who was at fault in auto accidents, most roads and public transit areas are fairly straightforward when it comes to right-of-way. If the accident can be reliably retold or reconstructed, it is often immediately obvious who was really at fault. Parking lots, however, can be the exception. As each lot may have a distinct traffic flow - or no intended flow at all - it can be ambiguous as to who, if anyone, legally has the right-of-way.

If you have been involved in a parking lot accident in the Sacramento area, don’t leave the financial outcome up to chance. Educate yourself on which laws may apply to your situation, and seek the advice of an experienced auto accident attorney.

The Inherent Danger of Parking Lots

Most drivers have experienced the stress and caution of driving in a busy parking lot. Between other cars driving up and down the lanes, vehicles pulling into or out of parking spots, and pedestrians walking to and from their cars, it can be a harrowing ordeal. Backing out of a space can be especially difficult when vision is impaired by neighboring vehicles, or when a nearby driver is not paying attention to his or her surroundings.

If an accident does occur, there are many factors that can play a role in determining fault. Even when multiple witnesses are present to corroborate the details of the situation, it may still be unclear whether anyone was truly at fault. In such cases, it is advantageous to gather as much evidence as possible and consult someone who is well versed in the nuances of auto laws.

Factors for Consideration

Because parking lots are usually built on private property and vary in shape and pattern, they do not function under a standard set of laws as public roads do. In many cases, lot owners install their own arrows, signs, or similar traffic signals in order to direct traffic in a desired direction. With or without these signals, though, the law expects drivers to exhibit a reasonable amount of caution and attention to other vehicles and pedestrians. If someone is deemed at fault for an accident in a parking lot, any of the following factors may be considered:

  • Whether intended traffic flow was clearly marked
  • What each car was doing at the time of collision (i.e., driving vs. parking)
  • What drivers were doing at the time of collision (e.g., was someone on the phone?)
  • Whether drivers were able to clearly see each other
  • What nearby vehicles or pedestrians were doing at the time of collision

For example, if one car was backing out of a parking space and collides with another car that was driving down the lane (at a reasonable speed, in the intended direction), the driver who was backing up may be held responsible, as it is normally his or her responsibly to check for oncoming traffic. Conversely, two drivers who back up into each other while pulling out of their respective parking spaces will likely be equally at fault. Still, even in the most clear-cut of cases, don’t expect the other party to agree; gather plenty of evidence to prove your story.

What to Do if You Are in an Accident

If you are involved in a parking lot auto accident, take the necessary steps to begin building a solid case for yourself. First, notice if there are any witnesses. An objective third party can be a crucial piece of evidence, as he or she can verify exactly how the accident occurred. Ask if witnesses would be willing to share their story with the police and possibly attorneys, and if so, exchange contact information.

Next, take some pictures of the accident, ideally before the vehicles are moved. When you call the police to exchange insurance information and file a report, make sure to obtain a copy of the police report. If a ticket is issued to either driver, it is often a good indication of whom the insurance companies will find to be at fault. Finally, remember that many parking lots may be within the scope of a building’s surveillance camera. If this is the case, ask the owner of the property if you may obtain a copy of the tape, as this can prove how the accident transpired.

Frequently Asked Questions About Parking Lot Car Accidents

What are the laws for parking lot accidents in California?

Under California state law, a car accident that occurs in a parking lot is subjected to the same legal processes as a car accident that occurs on the road. If you are involved in a parking lot collision, you should still report the accident and provide your contact information to the other driver. You will need to negotiate with the other driver’s insurance company to determine fault and allocate coverage. California is an at-fault state, so the insurance provider of whoever caused the accident should be liable for the damages.

What if a parking lot accident is a hit-and-run?

Many drivers have experienced the frustration of leaving a store and walking to their car, only to discover that someone had hit their vehicle and left.

These incidents are hit-and-run collisions. They should be treated just like any other accident in which the other driver flees the scene. In these situations, uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance is very helpful. This type of insurance coverage provides benefits in case an at-fault driver does not have sufficient insurance or is not present. To collect evidence of the hit-and-run accident, you may need to inquire about surveillance footage or speak to other witnesses.

Who is at fault for parking lot car accidents?

Liability in parking lot accidents can be determined by evaluating the movement of each vehicle and the behavior of the drivers. Actions such as texting behind the wheel, driving under the influence, or driving recklessly are often evidence of a driver’s fault.

In some cases, the owner of the parking lot could be liable for a collision. A property owner may be partially at fault for an accident in their parking lot if the area is poorly designed, is under construction, or does not have adequate signage. These elements can potentially confuse a driver or hinder their ability, and contribute to a collision.

Use this scenario as an example: What if you were backing out of a parking space and got hit? There are multiple elements that could have caused the collision. Did you look around before backing out of the space? Was either driver speeding? Is the parking lot designed in a way that blocked either driver’s vision? All of these questions are important in determining liability after a parking lot accident.

What are the responsibilities of a parking lot owner after a car accident?

A parking lot owner may need to provide evidence or a statement about the collision. Even if they are not considered liable for the car accident, their cooperation with a case can help identify who is at fault. They could provide security footage or other records that are relevant to the claim.

Will my insurance cover the damages from a parking lot accident?

Your insurance company should treat parking lot accidents the same as other vehicle collisions. If another driver is liable, their provider should cover the damages. Your insurance may step in if the other driver’s coverage is insufficient, or if you have a plan that allows for additional coverage. The coverage you may receive from your insurance company will depend on your policy.

Seek Legal Counsel

Even with strong evidence in support of your claim, it takes an expert attorney to fight on your behalf when the other party refuses to cooperate. Don’t sacrifice full compensation when you know the other driver is at fault. Contact the office of Larry S. Buckley to learn how we can help you prove your case in court.

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