Who Is at Fault For a Parking Lot Car Accident?

When you're in a parking lot accident, fault for the crash isn't usually clear-cut. Here are some key issues to consider.

When it comes to car accidents in parking lots, there's usually some good news (or perhaps some not-so-bad news) and some bad news. The not-so-bad news is that people are usually driving pretty slowly in parking lots, and as a result these types of car accidents are not often all that serious. The bad news is that there are cars going in every direction, and it is not always clear who has the right of way, so figuring out who was at fault for the car accident can be tricky. In this article, we'll offer some tips on figuring out who might be liable for a parking lot accident, and why it matters.

Parking Lots and Right-of-Way Rules

In a typical shopping center or office building parking lot, there are numerous lanes with cars parked on both sides, plus through lanes around the lot's perimeter, from which vehicles enter the parking lanes.

As a general rule, the vehicles in the through lanes have the right of way, and drivers approaching the through lanes from the parking lanes must yield the right of way to drivers in the through lanes. So, if a driver pulls out into a through lane as he is attempting to exit a parking lane, and collides with a vehicle traveling in the through lane, the driver exiting the parking lane will probably be deemed at fault for the accident. An exception to this general rule applies when the driver of the vehicle in the through lane fails to obey a "STOP" or "YIELD" sign that gives the right of way to vehicles exiting the parking lanes.

Pulling Into and Out of Parking Spots

In addition to accidents that occur in a parking lot's through lanes and parking lanes, collisions also typically occur when two vehicles are backing out of spots on opposite sides of the same parking lane. In this scenario, fault can be difficult to determine because, under the legal doctrine of negligence (which governs fault in most car accident cases), both drivers have a duty to make sure that it's reasonably safe to back into the lane of travel before doing so.

When one vehicle has already started to back up, the driver of the vehicle on the opposite side of the parking lane should take reasonable care to observe the other moving vehicle and wait before proceeding to exit the parking space. If the driver does not do so and strikes the other moving vehicle, he or she will likely be deemed at fault for the accident.

However, when it is unclear which vehicle began to back out first, and there is a collision in the middle of the parking lane, a determination of fault is much harder to make. Unfortunately, these instances of "simultaneous backup" seem to be the most common type of parking lane accident, and you should not assume you are at fault just because you backed into another vehicle while exiting your parking space.

Why Fault Matters

Fault determinations are important for the drivers involved in parking lot accidents, especially when it comes to whether your car insurance policy will cover damage to the vehicles and any personal injuries that occur. While the issue of whether you are in a "fault" or "no fault" car insurance state (and how no-fault car insurance works) is beyond the scope of this article, fault may well be a factor in determining insurance benefits regardless of your state's law. For this reason, you should be careful what you say at the car accident scene -- don't admit fault even if you think you're to blame, most importantly -- and let the insurance companies sort everything out through their own claim investigations.

The first step is letting your car insurance company know what happened, even if you think the parking lot accident resulted in little or no damage or injury. Learn more about why it's important to report a minor accident to your car insurance company.

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