How To Determine Fault In A Parking Lot Accident

Last Updated on January 10, 2020

Whether you’re running errands, going to work, heading to a movie – or going anywhere in public – if you leave your car in a parking lot, there’s always a risk that an accident will occur.

determining fault in parking lot collisionDespite your best efforts to find the safest parking spot, when you leave your vehicle unattended, there’s a chance that someone can hit into it. Further, while parking your vehicle or backing out of a space, a collision could also occur.

The good news is (well, at least the not so terrible news) is that accidents that occur in parking lots typically don’t result in a lot of damage. That’s because people are usually driving relatively slowly in parking lots, so the impact likely won’t be powerful enough to cause serious damage. However, the bad news is this: it can be hard to determine who is at-fault for these collisions.

Why is it Hard to Determine who is At-Fault in Car Accident Collisions?

The reason it can be so challenging to determine who is responsible for accidents that occur in parking lots is this: There are cars going in several different directions, and as such, it isn’t always clear which driver has the right of way.

For example, you may think that you have the right of way and so may the other driver. As a result, you end up colliding. But who is responsible for the accident? Below, we’ll highlight some general rules about the right of way in parking lots and how you can determine who is at-fault for collisions.

Right-of-Way in a Parking Lot

In a standard parking lot, there are several lanes, and vehicles are parked on either side. There are also through lanes that run around the perimeter of the parking lot. Other motorists use these through lanes to drive and park their vehicles.

As a general rule of thumb, motorists that are traveling in the through lanes have the right of way. As such, cars that are approaching any through lanes from parking spots have to yield to those cars that are driving in the through lanes. For example, if a car pulls out of a parking spot into a through the lane while trying to exit the parking lot and hits a car driving in the through lane, the motorist that was exiting the parking spot will likely be held liable for the accident.

Exceptions to the Rule

There is an exception to this, however: If the driver of the car in the through lane does not obey a traffic sign (a yield or a stop sign) in the parking lot, and that sign gives the right of way to cars that are exiting the parking spots, the driver in the through lane will be likely be held liable for a collision.

Accidents in parking lots also occur when two cars are backing out of parking lanes at the same time. With this type of collision, it can be particularly difficult to determine who is at-fault. Why? – Because in terms of negligence, both drivers have a duty to ensure that they are being reasonably safe while backing into a lane of travel. In other words, when the driver of one car starts to back up, the driver in the other car should exercise reasonable care and take notice of the fact that the other vehicle is moving. That driver should not attempt to back out until the other car has cleared the area. If the driver does not stop and hits the car that was backing out first, it will likely be determined that he was at-fault.

But, that’s not always the case. If it isn’t clear which car started backing out first and a collision occurs, it can be exceptionally difficult to determine who is responsible. Don’t just assume that you or the other driver is liable. Law enforcement officials and your insurance agency will have to investigate to pinpoint who is at-fault.

Hitting A Parked Car

It’s not hard to determine who is responsible for all parking lot accidents. In the event that a parked vehicle is hit by a moving vehicle, the driver of the moving vehicle will be at-fault for the accident. The reason? There was nobody driving the parked car, therefore, it is up to the driver of the moving vehicle to execute a reasonable standard of care while driving. If the vehicle is parked and another car hits into it, it will be determined that the motorist that was operating the moving vehicle was not executing reasonable care, and therefore will be held liable.

What Happens if You’re At-Fault?

If it is determined that you are at-fault for an accident that occurs in a parking lot, you will be responsible for paying for any damages to the other vehicle. Your insurance will cover the cost of the repairs; however, you can expect that your insurance rates will go up.

Whether you are ruled to be at-fault or not, it’s always smart to be adequately covered by insurance in the event these accidents occur. Most insurance policies in the United States will cover your liability should you hit another car in a parking lot. To be sure your vehicle is covered for all of the accidents that could happen in a parking lot, you should try to get as close to “full coverage” insurance as possible. This means buying a policy with not only liability coverage, but collision coverage, comprehensive coverage, and uninsured motorists coverage as well.

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James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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