Getting into a car accident is always an exasperating experience. From a fender bender because someone slammed on the brakes to a hard hit due to someone speeding, the incident comes with frustration, anger, and sometimes, litigation. And, while sometimes it may be relatively easy to narrow down liability — for example, if someone ran a red light — other times the answer isn’t as clear cut. Such can be the case when the accident occurred in a parking lot. Who’s at fault then, and how can you prove it?
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:
Did the Accident Occur on Private Property?
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.
Did the Accident Occur on Public Property?
If the accident happened on public property, the City 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.
Was there a Reckless Driver?
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.
All of the examples listed above are duties owed by the respective parties. If breaching any of those duties — i.e. not complying with any of them — is the direct cause of an accident that results in damages, the person breaching their duty will be the one who will be held responsible for the accident.
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 correctly, 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 to do 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.
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Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.