Who’s At Fault in a Parking Lot Accident?

Parking lot accidentsParking lots are unique driving environments with their own set of rules and considerations. Unlike traditional roads, parking lots are typically characterized by slower speeds, frequent stops, and pedestrians sharing space with vehicles. These tight quarters and limited visibility can contribute to accidents that might seem straightforward at first glance, but actually turn out to be pretty complicated.

Driver behavior and negligence in car accidents

Negligence is a central factor in determining fault in parking lot accidents. When another driver’s actions fall short of the expected standard of care, resulting in an accident, they may be deemed negligent. This could include behaviors like:

  • Speeding. Driving too fast in a parking lot can limit reaction time and increase the risk of accidents, particularly when pedestrians are present.
  • Failure to yield. Ignoring right-of-way rules or not yielding to pedestrians can lead to collisions, especially at intersections or crosswalks.
  • Distracted driving. People are focused on finding a spot, not on what other drivers are doing. They may also be texting or using the phone, chatting with their passengers, trying to turn off the radio, or engaged in any number of non-driving activities.
  • Backing up carelessly. Failing to check mirrors or use caution when reversing can result in collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians.

The role of right-of-way

One of the key elements in parking lot accidents is the concept of right-of-way. Generally, drivers entering a through lane from a parking lane are expected to yield to traffic already in the lane. However, exceptions arise when one vehicle is already moving within the through lane, and another vehicle is exiting a parking space. This creates a grey area where both drivers might believe they have the right-of-way.

According to NOLO:

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 they are 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.

Not all collisions are the result of driver negligence

Negligent drivers are the cause of most car accidents, but not all of them. Limited visibility is a significant factor in parking lot accidents. Blind spots, obstructed views, and poorly-designed parking layouts can all contribute to collisions. This can be particularly true when drivers are backing out of parking spaces, as they may not have a clear view of oncoming traffic.

Sometimes, parking lot accidents can be attributed, at least in part, to poor design or maintenance. Insufficient signage, unclear lane markings, inadequate lighting, and poorly maintained surfaces can all contribute to accidents. In such cases, property owners or managers might share some responsibility for the accident due to their failure to provide a safe environment.

Injuries from Fargo parking lot accidents

Parking lot accidents, though often occurring at lower speeds than accidents on highways, can still result in a wide range of serious injuries, especially for pedestrians. Some typical injuries from parking lot accidents include:

  • Head injuries. Depending on the severity of the collision, head injuries like concussions can occur, especially if a person’s head strikes the interior of the vehicle.
  • Fractures. The force of a collision can cause bone fractures, particularly in the arms, wrists, and hands, as people instinctively try to brace themselves during impact.
  • Back injuries. Lower back injuries, including herniated discs or spinal cord injuries, can result from the force of the collision.
  • Knee injuries. The positioning of drivers and passengers during a collision can lead to knee injuries, due to impact with the dashboard, steering column, or other vehicle parts.
  • Chest injuries. The seatbelt can prevent more severe injuries, but it can also cause bruising or minor fractures to the chest area in a crash.
  • Ankle and foot injuries. The force of impact can cause ankles and feet to move around unexpectedly within the vehicle, which can lead to injuries like sprains, strains, or fractures.
  • Emotional distress. While not physical, parking lot accidents can be emotionally distressing, leading to anxiety, stress, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some cases.

Contributory negligence in Fargo parking lot accidents

Here in North Dakota, modified contributory negligence principles apply to car accidents, no matter where they are. With contributory negligence, both drivers may share some degree of fault. For instance, if one driver was speeding and the other was distracted, both might be found partially at fault based on their respective contributions to the accident. However, if your fault exceeds 50%, you will be barred from receiving compensation altogether.

How we establish liability after any Fargo car crash

Proving liability in any kind of wreck requires documenting and carefully reconstructing the events. Our Fargo car accident attorneys may use evidence such as:

  • Photos. If you can, take pictures of the accident scene, vehicle damage, and the positions of vehicles after the collision. Take some pictures of your injuries, too, or ask someone else to take them for you. Not all injuries or damage will be visible by the time a case makes it to court, so having these photos from the immediate aftermath can help.
  • Witness statements. We’ll speak with any witnesses who observed the accident, so jot down any names and contact information you have. We can also use the police report to find out who saw what.
  • Surveillance footage. If available, security camera footage from the parking lot can provide valuable evidence. So, too, can any dash cam footage or any videos taken on a phone.
  • Police reports. One of the most important things you can do after a wreck is call law enforcement – especially if you’re injured. Their report is usually quite helpful, so we want to take a look at what the responding officer said. Bring a copy of it to your initial consultation. Note that the report itself cannot be submitted as evidence. The officer has to testify as to what they observed and reported in their crash report. Having a copy can be helpful for this reason, too.
  • Property maintenance records. If poor maintenance contributed to the accident, records of property upkeep can be relevant. We’ll seek copies of these records as part of your case.

Parking lot accidents often result in disputes over liability. If both parties have different accounts of the accident, it can be challenging to come to an agreement. Insurance companies will conduct their own investigations and assessments of liability, but that doesn’t mean you need to accept what they say. In fact, you shouldn’t – not without speaking with a lawyer, first. Our Fargo personal injury lawyers have years of experience negotiating with insurance companies; we know when they’re acting in good faith and when they’re being unfair.

Talk to an experienced attorney from Larson Law Firm P.C. today if you or a loved one were injured in a car accident. Call or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis. We have offices in Fargo, Bismarck, and Minot.