Liability for Slip and Falls and Other Injuries in Parking Lots and Garages

Build a winning claim for injuries like slip and falls in parking lots and garages. Here’s how to determine liability and get fair compensation.

Non-residential parking facilities are used by 175 million people every day.

Since most folks travel the parking lot twice for each visit, that’s 350 million pedestrian excursions through parking facilities daily.

With so much foot traffic, parking lots and garages are prime locations for slip and fall accidents. Slips, trips, and falls are common in parking lots, and falls of all kinds are the leading cause of death in older people.¹

Unfortunately, parking lots and garages are more often settings for violent crimes than any other public facility.²

If you’ve been injured in a fall in a parking lot, or brutalized in a parking garage, the property owner may be liable for your medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress.

Parking Facility Accidents and Injuries

Pedestrians coming and going through parking facilities are most commonly injured by moving cars, slip and fall accidents, and criminal assaults. Here are some of the factors that come into play:

Slippery surfaces: While ice and snow are typical causes of dangerously slick parking areas, oil spills and runoff from poor drainage are just as likely to cause pedestrian slip and fall injuries.

Pavement dangers: Potholes and broken, cracked, or uneven pavement are a major cause of trips and falls in parking facilities, resulting in fractured wrists and hips, head injuries, dental injuries, knee injuries, and cuts and bruises.

Wheel stops: Wheel stops are the abutments found in front of your car as you pull into a parking space. Wheel stops are hazardous when cracked pieces of cement fall off, or the stop becomes misaligned.

It’s easy for a visitor to overlook them and trip and fall, especially in accessible parking areas. Visitors have no reasonable expectation a wheel stop will be in their direct path.

Poor lighting: Poor lighting is a contributing factor in trip and fall injuries and criminal acts. Shopping malls, schools, and businesses are frequently open during evening hours and sometimes late into the night. Most airports are open round the clock.

Insufficient lighting in parking garages can mask potholes, debris, and cracked pavement. Poor lighting also gives criminals places to hide.

Distracted drivers: Pedestrians are injured and killed every day in parking lots and garages. In a recent government survey, 66 percent of drivers admitted to talking on cell phones while driving through parking lots, as well as texting, checking social media, reading emails, and watching videos.

If you’ve been run down by a careless motorist, you’re entitled to compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Inadequate and confusing signage: Ineffectively placed stop, turn, and yield signs are an invitation for chaos. So is inadequate signage. When hundreds, even thousands of pedestrians and drivers come in close contact with each other in confined areas, the probability of pedestrian injuries skyrockets.

Not only are distracted drivers liable for injuries, but the property owners are also equally responsible for their poor signage.

Inadequate security: More than 400,000 violent crimes are committed in parking lots or garages each year, including rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Poor lighting and inadequate security are an invitation to parking lot crimes. Victims are often preoccupied, alone, and have their hands full. It’s easy for an assailant to hide between parked cars. The criminal’s van or car won’t be noticeable among a sea of other vehicles.

There’s financial help available for crime victims. Learn more about Crime Victim’s Rights to Compensation for Injuries.

Proving Parking Lot Owner Liability

Property owners have a legal duty of care, meaning obligation, to keep their premises reasonably safe. It’s important to understand the term “reasonable.” Reasonable means the garage and lot owners don’t have to keep their premises completely safe from all possible harm. That’s practically impossible and an overwhelming obligation.

However, they are obligated to do what any reasonable parking lot owner would do, such as making periodic inspections, making timely repairs, and anticipating common hazards, like snow or ice.

Parking garages and parking lots are usually covered with concrete and asphalt. Because of constantly changing weather conditions, shifting of the earth, and normal wear and tear, parking surfaces are subject to cracking.

It’s nearly impossible for a parking lot owner to discover every newly formed crack, pothole, or dangerous condition. For an owner to be held liable, meaning responsible, the danger must be apparent or the owner must have received notice of the danger.

The owner must also have a reasonable amount of time to repair the dangerous condition once they know about it.

Parking facility owners can’t escape liability for every pedestrian injury. For example:

  • When a crack, pothole or other dangerous condition is large enough to be easily seen
  • An employee or other person already reported the problem
  • The owner is aware of criminal activity in the area

When the parking lot owner knows or should know about a problem and fails to fix it, the owner is negligent. If their negligence results in injuries, then the owner is liable for the injured person’s damages.

Damages can include the cost of medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress.

Injured in your employer’s parking lot? Find out when off-the-clock work injuries qualify for worker’s comp. You won’t have to prove negligence to get paid.

Just because you’re injured doesn’t mean the property owners are liable. When you’re filing an insurance claim or a lawsuit, the burden of proof is on you. To win, you’ll have to show:

  1. The parking lot owner was aware or should have been aware of the dangerous condition.
  2. A reasonable owner would know the dangerous condition could result in injuries to someone.
  3. The parking lot owner failed to take reasonable steps to correct the dangerous condition or to keep people away from the danger.
  4. The owner’s negligence was the direct cause of your injuries.
  5. Your injuries are verified.
  6. You didn’t contribute to the circumstances that led to your injuries.

The “prudent person” test: Proving negligence is a bit tricky. The property owner’s insurance company might argue that the dangerous condition was so obvious as to deter a “prudent” (careful) person from putting themselves at risk. In other words, if the pothole was big enough, you probably should have seen it and avoided it.

Med-pay: Many commercial property owners carry policies with Med-pay coverage, similar to a homeowner’s policy. With Med-pay, you won’t have to prove the parking lot owner was negligent to get your medical bills paid. Med-pay coverage is limited to actual medical expenses, up to a certain limit. Med-pay won’t cover lost wages or pain and suffering.

Contributory negligence: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia follow the contributory negligence rule. This means you won’t be eligible for compensation if you shared any blame at all for your injury.

Comparative negligence: The remaining states follow a pure or modified comparative negligence rule. In comparative negligence states, you might still be eligible for compensation, depending on your share of the blame. However, your compensation will be cut accordingly.

Example: Comparative Fault Reduces Slip and Fall Claim

Todd spent a cold January evening in a trendy downtown sports bar with some friends, including Jane, who was the designated driver. Around 2:00 am, they left the bar.

Walking through the parking garage, Jane stepped over a strip of ice on the way to her car. Todd didn’t notice the ice until he slipped and fell hard.

Todd suffered severe bruising, a broken collarbone, and required stitches in his chin. His damages added up to $20,000.

Todd filed a claim with the parking garage owner’s insurance company. Todd had learned that the parking garage often had a stream of water run-off in that section. The parking lot owner should have known it would freeze overnight and was negligent for not taking steps to treat the ice.

The insurance company argued that Jane was able to avoid the ice, but Todd wasn’t watching where he was going because he was voluntarily intoxicated. Under comparative fault rules, the insurance company decided Todd was 50 percent to blame for his injuries, so he was only eligible for $10,000 in compensation.

Evidence Supports Your Claim

Strong injury claims are supported by good evidence. Begin collecting evidence from the moment you’re injured, as best you can.

Photographs and video: As soon as possible, take photos and video of the dangerous condition that caused your injury. Strike while the iron is hot. The sooner you photographically document the scene, the less time the property owner has to cover it up.

Remember, it’s likely the insurance company will try to say the dangerous condition wasn’t discoverable during regular inspections, was too insignificant to cause your injuries, or that you were negligent in failing to observe an obvious danger. Your evidence must refute these claims.

If you don’t have a measuring tape, use any other object you can place near the condition to show its size. For example, a fast-food drink cup in a pothole can help show the depth and diameter of the hole that caused your fall.

If your injury was a result of a broken stairwell banister, snow, ice, or other slippery substance, make sure you record it as distinctly as possible, from a variety of different angles.

Witnesses: Witness statements are invaluable. Although most people don’t want to get involved, maybe you can persuade one or more onlookers to help. Independent witness testimony is very credible because the witness has nothing to gain by telling what they saw.

Grab any piece of paper you can find and ask the witnesses to write down what they saw, especially the existence of the dangerous condition and how it injured you.

For example, let’s say a witness was walking behind you down a parking garage stairwell. The stairs were made of concrete and covered with ice. The witness saw you slip on the icy steps and tumble to the bottom. While helping you up, she called 911 and requested emergency assistance because she saw blood all over your face and hands.

Ask her to write down her name, contact information and a description of how she saw you slip and fall on the icy steps. Ask her to sign and date her statement. If she’s willing, use your cell phone to video her statement.

Surveillance footage: Most parking garages and lots have one form or another of security cameras. They record parking lot accidents, parking garage injuries, and criminal activity. In most cases, property owners won’t voluntarily give you the footage without a subpoena.

Make sure to ask for copies of surveillance footage. Even if they refuse to hand it over, let them know you expect them to preserve all pictures, films, and any other records from that day as evidence.

Fortunately, when the insurance company investigates your injury claim, there’s a very high likelihood they’ll examine the footage. Then, the surveillance cameras will work to support your version of events.

Police report: Criminal activity must be promptly reported to police. Always call 911 to notify law enforcement of a robbery or assault, and to ask for medical help. The investigating officer will write a report of the crime. Police reports can be requested for a small fee.

Evidence of Your Damages

If you don’t have verified damages, you don’t have a case, no matter how upset you are with the property owner or management. You need to provide the insurance company with medical records detailing your injuries and treatment. Without proof of medical treatment and its costs, you won’t receive compensation.

It’s difficult to win compensation for emotional distress without corresponding physical injuries unless you have convincing records from a treating psychologist or psychiatrist.

If you’ve been traumatized by a robbery or assault in a parking facility, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about your injury claim. Your consultation will be strictly confidential.

Medical records and bills: Never delay or refuse treatment after an injury. If you think you are badly hurt, have someone call 911. Shock and distress can mask serious injury symptoms. If the paramedics want to take you to the hospital, go with them.

If your injuries didn’t require emergency care, you must see your physician or go to an urgent care center as soon as possible. Lack of immediate treatment can break the link between your injury and the dangerous condition, which would sink your injury claim.

You’ll need copies of your medical bills and records to prove you were hurt, and to establish the value of your claim.

Lost wages: If you had to miss work, ask your employer to write a letter detailing the amount of wages you’ve lost to date because of your injuries. Include lost vacation and sick days, and any bonuses or other compensation you lost due to the injury.

Attorneys Can Boost Compensation

If your injuries are soft tissue, you can probably handle your own claim. Common soft tissue injuries from falls in parking lots include muscle, tendon or ligament sprains, minor burns, cuts, and bruises. These are usually temporary injuries that don’t require hospitalization.

Calculate your compensation by totaling the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and the cost of ruined clothes or other personal items. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.

Send your demand in writing with copies of your bills, receipts, and any other evidence you’ve collected.

Look like a pro with our sample Parking Lot Injury Demand Letter.

You’ll need the help of a skilled personal injury attorney to pursue fair compensation for “hard” injuries like brain trauma, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, internal bleeding other significant injuries that may have permanent effects.

Don’t be fooled by a sympathetic adjuster. Insurance companies are in business to make money, not pay large settlements to claimants like you.

An attorney will help you get fair compensation for:

  • Slip, trip and fall injuries
  • Injuries from criminal attacks
  • Severe physical injuries
  • Severe psychological injuries
  • Wrongful death claims
  • Claims with more than one liable party

There’s too much at stake to handle a complicated claim on your own. You deserve to have a strong advocate in your corner.

It costs nothing to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.

Parking Lot Injury Claim Questions & Answers

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 >>