Determining Who’s at Fault in a Parking Lot Accident

Proving fault is the first step to getting fair compensation for a parking lot accident. See who’s to blame in common parking lot scenarios.

In most parking lot accidents when one vehicle is moving and the other is stationary, the driver of the moving vehicle is at fault. But parking lot collisions are often less clear-cut.

If it comes down to your word against the other driver’s, you’ll need to convince the insurance company who’s at fault for the crash.

It pays to understand basic traffic rules for parking areas and how those rules apply to most accidents. When you can intelligently explain to an insurance adjuster why their insured is responsible for your damages, and back up your assertions with evidence, you’ll end up with a better insurance settlement.

Here’s what you need to know about determining who’s at fault for parking lot accidents.

Basic Parking Lot Traffic Rules

Most parking lots are private property and not subject to state traffic laws. While that means the police won’t investigate every fender-bender, there are basic right-of-way rules that will help support your insurance claim.

Most parking lots have two types of traffic lanes:

  1. Main or access lanes leading in and out of the lot. In a large parking lot, the access lanes may circle the perimeter of the lot.
  2. Feeder lanes connect to the access road. Feeder lanes run up and down the rows of parking spaces.

Anyone driving through a parking lot has a duty of care to pay attention to where they’re going, watch out for pedestrians, and avoid causing harm to others.

Widely accepted parking lot traffic rules:

  • Drivers must obey all traffic signs in a parking lot, regardless of their lane of travel.
  • Traffic on the access lane has the right-of-way, subject to stop or yield signs.
  • Drivers in the feeder lanes must yield to traffic on the access lane.
  • Drivers in the feeder lanes have the right-of-way over cars leaving a parking space.
  • Cars leaving a parking space must yield to vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the feeder lane.

Negligence is when a driver fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable driver would do, like texting while driving through a parking lot.

Liability means fault or responsibility. A negligent driver is usually liable for damages they caused in the accident.

Accident Fault in Common Parking Lot Scenarios

An overview of typical parking lot accidents can’t account for variables that influence what caused an accident to happen. For example, icy conditions can make it impossible to avoid hitting another car in a parking lot. Keep this in mind when reading the following scenarios.

Fault in common parking lot accidents:

  • Both Cars in Motion: Fault will be assigned to the driver who did not have the right-of-way, whether they ignored a stop sign, were driving the wrong way in a marked lane, or failed to yield to the main access lane from a feeder lane.
  • Damage to Parked Car: Damage to a legally parked car can happen when the car is struck by someone trying to park nearby, or banging their car door against the vehicle. The moving vehicle driver is at fault. These types of auto accidents are more likely to be hit-and-runs.
  • Two Cars Colliding When Leaving Parking Spaces: Unless you can prove the other driver missed the opportunity to avoid the crash, both drivers will share the blame evenly.
  • Two Cars Trying to Enter Same Spot: Fault will depend on who had the right-of-way, and which car was furthest into the space.
  • A Car Moving Out of Parking Spot into Oncoming Traffic: Whether pulling forward or backing out, the driver leaving the parking space will usually be to blame for a collision. Fault may be shared if the driver who had the right-of-way was speeding, texting, or otherwise could have avoided a collision.

What to Do After a Parking Lot Crash

It’s important to know what to do and mistakes to avoid after a parking lot incident, even if you think you might have caused the accident.

Especially around major holidays, people tend to be stressed and in a hurry. After a parking lot collision, the other driver may be upset, angry, or downright abusive. If the other driver is belligerent, stay in your locked car with the windows up.

Never apologize or admit fault after a parking lot accident. There may be mitigating factors you won’t know about until later. 

Call 911 to report the accident. Tell the dispatcher if anyone is injured or if the other driver is behaving in a threatening manner.

If you are able to safely get out of your vehicle:

  • Take pictures of the cars and the accident scene
  • Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver
  • Observe if there are occupants in the other car, and make a note to yourself describing them
  • Try to spot any security cameras that might have captured the accident
  • Get contact information from potential witnesses

After leaving the accident scene:

  • Seek prompt medical attention
  • Notify your auto insurance company
  • Notify the other driver’s insurer of your intent to file a claim
  • Obtain a copy of the police report, if available
  • Continue to collect evidence that will support your car accident claim

Evidence you gather will help prove the other driver was careless and negligent. Your evidence can also help refute the other driver’s arguments that you shared blame for causing the collision.

Your emergency medical records will prove the accident directly caused your injuries, and the rest of your medical records will prove the extent of your injuries.

Once you’ve proven the other driver is liable for your injuries, the insurance company should compensate you for your damages.

Who Determines Fault for a Parking Lot Accident?

In no-fault insurance states, your medical bills and lost wages are covered under your own insurance policy’s MedPay or Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, regardless of who caused the crash. You must file a claim with the other driver’s insurance to cover your property damage.

In traditional fault states, the other driver’s insurance carrier must pay for your injuries and property damage, but you must prove they caused the crash.

Local Law Enforcement

Always call 911 after a car accident, even a fender-bender. A police officer’s determination of fault carries a lot of weight with insurance adjusters and car accident lawyers.

Police may not be dispatched to a parking lot accident unless there are reported injuries or extensive vehicle damage. Even if the police don’t respond to your accident, you can truthfully say you reported the crash.

Proving fault without a police accident report is possible, although more difficult.

The Insurance Company

The adjuster from the at-fault driver’s insurance company will determine fault, to the extent they can decide to deny or minimize your parking lot claim. Your knowledge of the situation and the evidence you bring to the table will influence the adjuster’s decision.

Insurance adjusters have a vested interest in reducing payouts. Trying to blame you for contributing to the crash is an easy way to avoid big payouts. Most states have modified comparative or contributory negligence laws.

The adjuster will deny your claim if you are more at fault than the other driver. If you are less at fault, your compensation can be reduced in proportion to your allocation of fault.

Serious injury claims should always be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney. Insurers will always push back against high-dollar claims, especially those caused by a low-speed parking lot accident.

A Judge or Jury

The insurance adjuster doesn’t get to have the last word on fault or the value of your injuries if you are willing to take them to court.

Most car accident attorneys offer a free consultation to injured victims. It makes sense to seek legal advice from a good attorney when the insurance company blames you or won’t offer a fair settlement.

Case Example: Jury Awards $1.4 Million for Parking Lot Accident Injuries

Stacy Stepancik-Goff had just returned to her van in a convenience store parking lot. Before she had time to buckle her safety belt or leave the parking spot, her van was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Janice Warner.

Stepancik-Goff suffered debilitating injuries to her neck, arm, and shoulder, along with significant emotional distress. Prior to trial, Warner’s representative would not offer more than $25,000 for Stepancik-Goff’s damages.

The jury determined that Warner was at fault for the accident. Specifically, Warner was negligent in failing to keep a proper lookout, speeding, failing to control her vehicle, failing to brake, and failing to take action to avoid a collision.

After a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of Stepancik-Goff and awarded her damages of $1,400,000. The award consisted of:

  • $140,000 for future medical expenses
  • $35,000 for risk of harm
  • $475,000 for past and future emotional distress
  • $300,000 for past and future pain and suffering
  • $450,000 for past and future loss of a normal life

Visitor Questions on Determining Fault

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>