Who Is at Fault in a Parking Lot Accident?

Collisions between vehicles or between drivers and bicyclists/pedestrians frequently occur in parking garages or parking lots. While many may assume that both drivers involved in a parking lot collision share fault for an accident or that a driver who hits a pedestrian or cyclist bears sole responsibility, fault depends on the circumstances. Who bears fault for a parking lot accident could depend on the type of accident/collision and the events leading up to the crash.

Drivers have rights and responsibilities after a parking lot accident, including the obligation to stop and render aid or exchange information. Depending on who bears responsibility for the accident, with the help of a personal injury lawyer in Halifax you may have the right to pursue a financial recovery for expenses you incur due to the crash.

What Is a Parking Lot Accident?

A parking lot accident is any motor vehicle accident that occurs in a parking lot or garage. Parking lot accidents may occur between two or more vehicles or between a vehicle and a pedestrian or bicyclist. These crashes tend to occur at low speeds due to the confined space of parking lots or garages, but accidents can still lead to severe injuries.

Many people believe the myth that drivers involved in parking lot accidents equally share fault for the crash. However, a parking lot accident may occur due to the fault of only one driver. Parking lot accidents also may not have any eyewitnesses except the drivers involved, who may not see each other before the crash and, therefore, cannot describe what the other driver did in the moments leading up to the collision.

Common Types of Parking Lot Accidents

Parking lot accidents may come in many different types based on the movement of vehicles before the crash or the parties involved in the accident. Common types of parking lot accidents include:

  • A moving vehicle hits a stationary vehicle or object – A driver pulling into or backing out of a parking spot in a lot or garage may hit a parked vehicle near the parking spot. The driver may also hit other stationary objects, such as lamp posts, traffic signs, barriers, or shopping cart return corrals. In most cases, a driver who hits a stationary vehicle or object will bear fault for the collision.
  • Two vehicles backing out of their spaces collide – Drivers across the traffic lane from one another may collide as they back out of their parking spaces simultaneously, hitting each other in the rear of their vehicles. Although various circumstances may influence the determination of fault in this type of collision, both drivers will share fault for the crash in many cases.
  • A vehicle backs out of a space into a vehicle passing behind them – Another common type of parking lot accident involves a driver hitting a passing vehicle while backing out of a parking spot. Drivers backing out of a parking space typically must yield to oncoming traffic, although certain circumstances may affect fault for the crash, such as when the passing motorist drives down the lane at an unsafe speed.
  • Two vehicles collide when pulling into the same spot – Drivers may also collide when trying to pull into the same parking spot. While both drivers will usually share fault for the crash, certain circumstances may affect the share of liability, such as when one driver signals their turn into the spot but the other driver doesn’t.
  • Rear-end collisions – Rear-end collisions may occur in parking lots and garages when a vehicle fails to slow down and stop for traffic stopped at a stop sign or pedestrian crossing.
  • Front-end collisions – In these settings, front-end collisions can occur when a vehicle passes another vehicle stopped in the travel lane and collides with an oncoming vehicle. Front-end crashes may also occur when a vehicle travels the wrong way down one-way lanes in a parking lot or garage.
  • Sideswipe collisions – Due to the limited space in many parking lots or garages, vehicles may have sideswipe collisions when passing too close to one another, including when a driver must move over slightly to pass a pedestrian in the travel lane.
  • Pedestrian or bicycle accidents – Pedestrians and bicyclists can seemingly appear out of nowhere in parking lots, especially when they cross through parking spots or pass closely behind parked vehicles, making it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians or cyclists when backing out of a parking space. Depending on the circumstances of an accident, either the driver or the pedestrian/cyclists may bear fault for the accident. Drivers may bear responsibility for a crash when they fail to look behind, or pedestrians or cyclists may share fault for the accident when they distractedly or willfully walk behind a vehicle attempting to pull out of a space.

Factors Used to Determine Fault for a Parking Lot Accident

Some of the factors that police, insurers, or courts may consider when determining fault include:

  • Whether a driver disobeyed a traffic sign, including a stop or yield sign, a one-way indicator, or a speed limit posting
  • Whether a driver failed to yield the right of way to another motorist, bicyclist, or pedestrian, including failing to yield to traffic when pulling onto a thoroughfare from a feeder lane between rows of parking spaces
  • Whether any party involved in the accident was distracted
  • Whether a driver failed to signal before turning or pulling into a parking space
  • Whether a driver failed to look behind before pulling out of a space
  • Whether defective design or negligent maintenance caused hazardous conditions in the lot or garage, such as inadequate lighting or signage/markings

Examples of evidence used to determine responsibility for an accident in a parking lot or garage include:

  • Driver and eyewitness testimony
  • Accident scene photos or videos
  • Vehicle damage reports
  • Surveillance camera footage
  • Dashcam/vehicle camera footage
  • Data from vehicle computers, including acceleration or braking inputs
  • Police accident reports

What to Do When Someone Hits Your Parked Car in Canada

If you’ve had a parking lot accident, follow these steps:

  • Move your vehicle out of the feeder lane or thoroughfare if you can safely do so.
  • Check on everyone involved in the accident. Contact law enforcement or emergency services if someone requires medical attention.
  • File an accident report with law enforcement. Nova Scotia law requires drivers to file reports for accidents where someone was injured or with more than $2,000 in apparent property damage.
  • Exchange contact, insurance, and vehicle information with the other drivers or parties involved in the accident.
  • Take photos and videos of the accident scene, including vehicle damage, street markers, road signs, and visual obstructions.
  • Seek immediate medical attention to have a doctor examine you for any injuries you may have suffered in the crash. Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations and instructions.
  • Request copies of any police accident report and medical records for the treatment of your injuries.
  • Keep any bills, invoices, or receipts of expenses you incur, such as costs of vehicle repairs.

Finally, contact a lawyer to discuss the details of the accident and learn more about your legal rights.

What Happens If You Hit a Car in a Parking Lot and Leave?

The law requires all drivers involved in a collision to stop at or immediately return to the collision scene to assist anyone injured in the crash and exchange information with any injured parties or owners of damaged property. If a driver cannot locate the owner of unattended damaged property, they may leave a note with their contact and insurance information.

Immediately leaving the scene of a parking lot accident may result in a law enforcement citation for failure to remain if police can identify you from surveillance footage or eyewitness testimony. A conviction for failure to remain may result in penalties that include fines, suspension of driving privileges, and demerit points. Sentences may also include jail or prison time if the accident caused injuries to another person.

Who Is Responsible If You Hit an Illegally Parked Car?

If you hit an illegally parked or stopped vehicle in a parking lot or garage, fault for the accident will depend on the details of the accident, especially the position of the illegally parked or stopped vehicle. An illegally parked vehicle’s owner may bear some or all the fault for the collision when stopped or parked outside a designated parking spot, in a no-stopping zone, or in a feeder lane, thoroughfare, or driveway.

What If Someone Hits My Parked Car?

When you leave a store or building and discover that someone has hit your parked car, you should first look around to see if the driver has stayed at the scene to exchange information. If not, see if the driver has left a note with their information. Drivers will frequently leave a note tucked under the windshield wiper. You should also notify the parking lot or garage owner about the accident. The lot or garage might have surveillance cameras that captured the collision and can help you identify the at-fault driver if they fled the scene.

Compensation Available in a Parking Lot Accident Claim

Depending on the damage or injuries you’ve sustained in a parking lot accident, you may have the right to pursue compensation from the driver or party at fault for the accident. Financial recovery available after a parking lot accident may include money for your:

  • Pecuniary losses, including vehicle repairs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, personal care expenses, and loss of present and future income
  • Non-pecuniary losses, including physical pain, emotional suffering, and lost enjoyment of life
  • Special damages, or the costs you incur in pursuing your legal claims

Tips for Avoiding Parking Lot Accidents

Since there is usually considerable vehicular and pedestrian traffic in parking lots, drivers should familiarize themselves with tips to help avoid getting into a collision with another vehicle, bicyclist, or pedestrian in a parking lot or garage:

  • Pay attention while driving through a parking lot. Avoid distractions from your cell phone, navigation system, or radio/climate controls. Vehicles or pedestrians may require you to come to a sudden stop at any time.
  • Never rely solely on backup cameras or cross-traffic sensors when backing out of a parking space. Always look behind and to the sides of your vehicle when pulling out of a spot.
  • Remember to check your blind spots by performing shoulder checks when moving into or out of a parking space.
  • Constantly check your surroundings when driving through a parking lot or garage.
  • Follow all traffic signs, road markings, and posted speed limits.
  • Use your turn signals when turning or pulling into a parking spot.
  • Yield the right of way to traffic in the feeder lane when pulling out of a spot or in the thoroughfare when pulling out of a feeder lane.
  • Consider facing your vehicle forward out of the parking spot to make it easier to see oncoming traffic or pedestrians when pulling out.
  • Parking further away from the storefront in less-congested rear areas of the parking lot to reduce the chances of an accident.

How Long Do You Have to File a Car Parking Accident Claim?

In Nova Scotia, you typically have two years to file a claim to recover compensation for losses you may have incurred in a parking lot accident. However, you may have longer to file your claim if you did not know all the facts necessary to pursue your claims, such as the identity of a hit-and-run driver or the fact that you suffered injuries in the accident, but in no case may you file a claim after 15 years has passed since the accident. You can talk to a lawyer about the details of your case to learn how long you may have to file your claim.

How Can a Lawyer Help You After an Accident in the Parking Lot?

After suffering property damage or injuries in a parking lot accident caused by someone else, a lawyer can help you understand your legal options and pursue the compensation you deserve. Your lawyer can help by:

  • Investigating the accident to recover critical evidence like surveillance footage or eyewitness testimony
  • Documenting injuries you may have suffered in the crash
  • Evaluating your legal options for financial recovery
  • Preparing and pursuing your insurance or legal claims to recover compensation for your injuries and losses
  • Negotiating a settlement
  • If an appropriate settlement can’t be reached, taking your case to court
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