Liability for hitting a pole that's not visible to drivers?

by Karin
(Modesto, CA)

I hit a bright yellow pole in the parking lot of my gym and have $2,000 damage to my car, just because I hit it right where the bumper and fender meet and both have to be replaced. It can't be fixed.

There are 3 yellow poles right in front of the entrance door of the gym. There used to not be any for a long time and then they put them there with one right next to a parking spot. They just recently painted them yellow and I found out that I was not the only one hitting the same pole. Right when it happened a woman walked passed me and told me she did the same thing and her car is damaged also.

In my opinion, the pole is not tall enough. It is not visible from the driver's seat and there is no curb preventing me from coming close to the pole. I would have never damaged my car at all if there had been a curb.

Yes, I saw the poles when I drove into the spot, but because I didn't see the one right next to me backing out and I knew there wasn't a curb, I ended up backing out about 2 thirds and then turning the wheel. That's when I hit the pole that was still not visible to me.

The manager of the gym was there and I showed him the damage. I also took pictures of the pole and from the driver's seat looking out. I reported it to the corporate office, but they say it was my fault.

I think they are at least partly at fault because there was no curb and the pole wasn't high enough to be visible from the driver's seat. I'm not a short person at all and I could not see it. It's also telling that other people have hit the pole in the same way.

Would I have a chance to fight this?

If I report it to my insurance they will most likely raise my premiums. I've only been with them a few months. I do have a good driving record. Thanks for any perspective you can provide.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Liability for hitting a pole that's not visible to drivers?":

Karin (Modesto, CA):

Your options are limited. While assessment of liability is arguable, you already know the gym's position. Their corporate people already told you they will not pay for your property damage, thereby not accepting liability.

You are under a contractual duty to report the accident to your insurance company. Almost all auto insurance policies require the insured (you) to report any accidents to the company (Insurer) and to thereafter cooperate in the investigation of the matter.

Reporting the accident to your insurance company does not automatically mean your premiums will increase. Instead, higher premiums are more likely only if you file a claim with your insurance company referred to as a "first party claim."

You can also consider filing a small claims lawsuit against the gym. In California, Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear cases up to and including $10,000. For more information on California Small Claims Court Rules and Procedures see:

California Department of Consumer Affairs

California Small Claims Court

Before considering filing a lawsuit, contact the gym's corporate office once again and explain to them you believe they were truly negligent in the placement of the poles, and you believe compensation would be fair. Once said, there is a possibility they may turn the matter over to their insurance company.

If that's the case, the insurance company may decide to give you a nuisance payout. This means instead of having to pay their attorneys to defend the case, they will pay you to have the entire matter over with.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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