Parking lots at office buildings, shopping centers, apartment complexes, and elsewhere can be dangerous because of the high volume of vehicles and pedestrians that passes through them. Drivers may be easily distracted by their surroundings or may have limited visibility. Parking lot accidents tend to occur at relatively low speeds, which means that the injuries are less likely to be serious. These cases can be complicated, however, since it is not always obvious who was at fault. Even if you live in a no-fault car insurance state, determining fault may still be relevant in receiving benefits. If you suspect that you may have been partly at fault, you should not make any such admission at the scene and wait for investigators to explore what happened.
Entering and Leaving Parking Spaces
Right of Way
When two vehicles are backing up, generally the vehicle that began backing up first has the right of way. However, both drivers have a duty to make sure that they are being reasonably safe.
Drivers are expected to check the area around them before entering or pulling out of a parking space. This involves checking not only mirrors but also blind spots and paying extra attention to any part of their surroundings where visibility is limited. Accidents can happen when drivers fail to see a pedestrian in a blind spot, especially a child, or when they fail to notice another car backing out of a spot on the opposite side of the parking lane. Generally, when one driver has started to go in reverse and pull out of the parking spot, another driver near them should wait until they exit and give them room to maneuver safely. In busy parking lots, determining who went in reverse and started to back up first may be difficult. The fact that you hit another car when you backed up does not necessarily mean that you were at fault.
Yielding in Parking Lots
Parking lots do not seem like roads to most people, so they may not be familiar with the rules requiring them to yield in certain situations. Some of the rules may be intuitive, however, such as the rule that a vehicle leaving a parking space must yield to cars passing through the parking lane behind them, which have the right of way. Drivers also must yield to pedestrians wherever they encounter them in a parking lot, even if they are not in a crosswalk or another place where you would expect to find them. If a car near you is very tall or long and obscures your view, you should take extra care to maneuver around it slowly so that you can stop in time to avoid striking another car or a pedestrian behind it.
If there is no traffic control device, such as a yield sign, the driver in the perimeter or through lane generally has the right of way.
A less obvious yield rule in parking lots involves larger lots that have perimeter lanes around the lot and parking lanes between the spaces. Drivers in the perimeter lanes typically have the right of way. Thus, a driver in a parking lane who fails to yield to a driver in a perimeter lane likely will be liable for the ensuing crash. There is an exception when a stop sign, yield sign, or other traffic control device provides that drivers in the parking lane have the right of way. In that case, a driver in the perimeter lane who failed to obey the sign or device likely will be liable if they crash into a driver coming from the parking lane.
Suing the Parking Lot Owner
If a parking lot was designed or maintained in a hazardous way that increases the risk of accidents, you may have a claim against the owner of the parking lot. This would be a premises liability claim rather than a standard car accident case, since fault would be based on establishing a defective property condition of which the owner knew or should have known. These cases are relatively rare because the low speeds at which drivers travel in parking lots mean that falling into a pothole, for example, usually just causes property damage rather than injuries.