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Accident in Parking Lot – Who’s Liable?

There is a lot of legalese you see every day. For instance, if there’s a parking lot sign saying “Management is not responsible for damage to your car or its contents”– does it actually mean the management isn’t responsible? Do these signs actually establish legal obligations?

Here’s the answer. Usually, parking lot owners aren’t responsible for damage to cars that happens in the parking lot, signage or not. But there are three big exceptions.

The first exception is if the car is parked in a place where the law says that garage owners are responsible for damage to cars even if the facility is a park-and-lock. Massachusetts, for instance, generally treats parking facilities that way.

Second is if a parking lot has a valet. The valet temporarily takes possession of the car, so it’s the responsibility of the parking lot owner. Whenever you turn your personal property over to a third party for safekeeping, that’s called a “bailment” in legalese. Classic examples are when you leave a jacket at a coat check– or if you hand your car keys over to a valet. A bailment means that the person who temporarily holds your property needs to take precautions so the property isn’t damaged. Because the valet has control over the car, it’s the obligation of the parking lot owner to make sure the car and the possessions in the car are returned unharmed.

Third, management can be responsible if they did something that was negligent– for instance, by failing to adequately protect a parking garage against potential criminal conduct, or by failing to warn of the hidden hazards inside a parking lot— ice accumulation, poor maintenance, bad design, or inadequate visibility.

Many of these dangers can be avoided by warning your customers of potential hidden hazards. A simple sign can make a difference. Savvy parking lot owners know that signs not only help make the lot safer, but can help head off the hassles of disputing liability in practice. SmartSign sells a variety of hazard signs to help keep you and your customers safe and happy!


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