When people think about car accidents, the most common scenario that comes to mind is of motor vehicles impacting each other on roadways. And, while these types of crashes do occur at a higher frequency, those that occur on parking lots can cause as much stress and frustration. But, how is fault determined? What kind of evidence do you need to present in court to prevail?
What cause of action can you bring against someone for a parking lot accident?
This type of claim would be for negligence. In order to prove it, you have to show the existence of four elements: duty of care, breach of that duty, causation, and damages. In a parking lot accident, there are several people who owe a duty of care:
- If the accident occurred on private property, the owner of the commercial building should ensure that the surfaces on the parking lot are well maintained, the area is well lit, parking spaces are clearly marked, and there are spaces designated for disabled motorists near the entrance.
- If the accident happened on public property, the city or township has the duty to ensure safety the same way the private owner has to do so. If it was on city-owned roadways, lanes should be clearly designated, barricades placed when necessary, and street lights should be working properly.
- Every single person driving a car also has certain responsibilities. These include driving within the posted speed limit, obeying signage, keeping a reasonable distance between their car and the vehicle in front of them, and granting pedestrians the right of way.
In short, you can sue anyone who seemingly breached a duty of care — and sometimes, that can be more than one party at once.
Is the person backing up always at fault?
It depends. Generally speaking, if only one vehicle was moving, the driver of that car may be found to be at fault. However, through a process called discovery, the attorneys representing the parties start piecing together the full picture. This is necessary because, sometimes, there’s more than one person to blame.
Say, for example, that you hit someone else’s car at night because the parking lot wasn’t properly lit. The property owner could be held liable for the accident. However, let’s look at other possibilities: if the person backing out of the parking space had non-working tail lights, they may also be held partly responsible. Or if the driver who got hit by the car backing up was speeding in the parking lot, they’ll also share a portion of the blame.
There could be many variables. In order to get all the facts correct, you can use surveillance video and witness testimony. Attorneys involved in the case could also depose (take the sworn statement) of anyone else who could be held liable – such as a driver who knew their car had a mechanical failure but failed to fix it, a mechanic who worked on a car and failed to see the issue, or a manufacturer who knew or should have known that a specific make and model of their cars had a defect and failed to issue a recall notice.
If more than one person is found to be responsible for the accident, liability will be apportioned accordingly. This is called comparative negligence. This means that if you were backing out of a parking spot with a broken tail light and hit a car that was speeding, both of you could be found to be 50/50 liable for the accident.
What if you hit a parked car?
If you hit a parked car, Florida law requires you to report it to the nearest police department. When doing so, provide the exact location where the accident happened, your name and contact information, and your license plate and the license plate of the car you hit.
If you caused damage to the other person’s car and leave the scene without reporting it, you’d be committing a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by hefty fines, suspension of your driver’s license, and up to 60 days in jail.
What if both cars were backing up at the same time?
Florida law doesn’t specifically address cars backing up into each other at a parking lot. However, it establishes that no person shall drive at a speed that is greater than what’s reasonable under the conditions. Drivers are also required to take into account potential hazards and control their speed accordingly to avoid collisions.
This means that the drivers of both cars are expected to use reasonable care when backing out of a parking spot. This means looking in your rearview mirrors and over your shoulder, to see if there are any pedestrians or another vehicle who’s also backing up from across the way, or that may drive past the back of your vehicle. This also means that both drivers could be found liable if either one failed to heed caution.
How do insurance companies determine who was at fault?
Insurance companies have attorneys who conduct discovery. During this part of litigation, they may send a demand letter to the commercial building where the parking lot was located — or any nearby structure with an unobstructed view of the site of the accident — requesting that they preserve surveillance video footage of the date and time in question. This is crucial, since, without such a demand, businesses are free to continue recording daily footage over old footage.
Insurance companies can also conduct depositions as part of the discovery process. During a deposition, the insurance company’s lawyer can spend several hours asking questions from people with firsthand knowledge of the accident. The person being interrogated is under oath and must answer truthfully, under penalty of perjury. It is also during this process that the insurance company may find out if there were any witnesses. For example, if you are being deposed and you mention that a grocery store employee saw everything happen, the insurance company may then seek to depose said grocery store employee.
Insurance companies will also attempt to diminish their liability. Florida is a comparative negligence jurisdiction. This means that if you were partly at fault, your percentage of fault will be deducted from whatever you can recover. Say, for example, that someone backed into you because they didn’t look at their rearview mirror. However, you were partly backed up — yet fully stopped — because you got a text message and wanted to see from whom it was from. In such a scenario, both drivers are at fault. And if your bumper requires $15,000 in costs, your own liability will reduce what you can recover by half.
Do you need a police report for a parking lot accident?
- Any of the drivers involved were under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Any of the motor vehicles involved were totaled or had to be towed
- Someone involved in the accident is complaining of pain or discomfort
- A commercial motor vehicle was involved
- There was a fatality (death) at the scene
Due to the nature of parking lot accidents, the likelihood of a fatality or totaling a vehicle is very low — unless a person was recklessly driving due to racing, DUI, or fleeing the scene of a crime. However, it is common for someone in a parking lot accident to complain of pain or discomfort — especially if a vehicle hits a pedestrian, or the driver who received the impact has an underlying medical condition that made them more prone to injuries.
Call Clark Law If You’ve Been in a Car Accident in Tampa Bay
If you or someone you love has been involved in an accident, call us at (855) 680-4911 or schedule a free consultation. At Clark Law, we have experienced attorneys who regularly represent clients involved in motor vehicle accidents, and we can help you determine the best next step.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.