Wherever there are cars, accidents are bound to happen—even if it’s a place where cars spend most of their time standing still. But parking lot accidents actually account for every 1-in-5 motor vehicle accidents or 20% of all motor vehicle accidents. They may not always be as severe as crashes that happen on the open road, but no matter their outcome, they should still be considered accidents and treated as such. That’s because accidents don’t just happen on their own; more often than not, someone can and should be found directly at fault for the damages caused to another person. Read on to learn more about the nuance in determining who’s at fault in a parking lot accident.

Q: Are parking lots private or public property?

A: In the state of Missouri, parking lots are considered private property, rather than property owned and operated by the city or state in the same way areas like public roads or highways are. That being the case, the owner of a parking lot has a personal duty to maintain and upkeep the elements of their parking lot, such as by painting parking lines appropriately, inserting stop signs, speed limit signs, or speed bumps as needed, and maintaining the asphalt to diminish hazards like potholes and debris.

Though these private property owners are expected to maintain safely drivable lots, because they aren’t regulated by a government entity, there’s less pressure for them to actually do so. That means parking lots can sometimes be more dangerous for drivers to traverse—even if they and the cars around them are generally traveling at much slower-than-average speeds than a car on a road would usually be traveling.

Q: Do drivers have to obey regular traffic laws in parking lots?

A: A driver operating their vehicle in a parking lot isn’t technically required to follow all the same traffic laws as they did on the road they just left, because it’s not public property. So there are no government-enforced speed limits in a parking lot, and any stop signs or other traffic signs you see in a parking lot were not placed there by the government either, meaning drivers feel less legally obligated to obey what they say.

Of course, drivers navigating through a private parking lot are still legally obligated to practice safe driving when behind the wheel of their car. It’s just that when it comes to parking lot driving, “safe” can tend to be a little more subjective. 

Q: How do parking lot accidents happen?

A: Parking lots are typically designed to accommodate numerous vehicles, resulting in tight spots and limited maneuvering space. The close proximity of vehicles increases the likelihood of not only accidental dings and scrapes but also of fender benders and larger collisions as drivers attempt to navigate through the congested area. Drivers may also encounter unusual blinds spots in a parking lot, making it challenging to anticipate the traffic or pedestrians around them.

Reversing is also a common activity in parking lots, and it tends to be the number one cause behind most parking lot accidents. Limited visibility combined with tight and unfamiliar spaces makes it easier for a driver to miscalculate the movement of their car, ultimately leading to crashes with either parked or moving vehicles. Even with the adage of rear-view cameras and sensors, poor judgment calls can still be made by drivers.

Speeding, careless, or reckless driving through a parking lot can also lead to car accidents in much the same way it can on a normal road. Some drivers assume that because there are fewer legally enforceable rules in a parking lot, they can drive however they want, meaning they speed, perform aggressive maneuvers, disregard signage, or make unexpected and unpredictable choices. Distracted driving such as looking at a phone screen, paying attention to passengers in the car, or eating while driving are also all possible causes of parking lot accidents.

Q: Can pedestrians be involved in parking lot accidents?

A: Pedestrians can absolutely pose risks in ways that are less common than for cars driving on a street or highway. Parking lots tend to be busy with pedestrians such as shoppers, employees, and families who are making their way to and from the buildings surrounding the parking lot. While designated crosswalks and walkways may exist within a parking lot, there are no official laws or rules that make it so these pedestrians are required to use them. That being the case, it’s possible a driver might fail to notice pedestrians crossing between or walking behind vehicles, or darting out into the middle of driving lanes without warning.

Q: How is fault determined in a parking lot accident?

A: To determine who is at fault for a parking lot accident, the circumstances of how the accident occurred must be closely looked at. And it may be possible that more than one driver is found at fault for the accident. For example, if a car is improperly parked in a designated spot, and another car hits it as a result, each driver may be found partially at fault for any resulting damage. But if the first car is practicing safe driving and parking tactics, and another car crashes into them because they are not practicing the same safe tactics, it’s more likely that the second driver will be found fully at fault. It really does come down to the circumstances of both drivers and their behavior.

Many collisions in parking lots are the result of one or both drivers failing to yield to the other. Though there are laws that address when motorists are required to yield, these laws are frequently ignored in parking lots. But drivers in lots must yield to other drivers who are already actively moving through the traffic lane. By way of example, if a parked car is attempting to back out of their space, and a car is already moving down its lane and does not have time to brake, it’s likely the backing-up driver will be found responsible for the crash—even though the other car technically crashed into them.

Q: What should I do if I’m involved in a parking lot accident?

A: Though there are quite a few gray areas when it comes to parking lot accidents, if you’re ever involved in one, you should treat it just like you would a “regular” car accident on a “regular” road. It’s still an accident in which property can be damaged and injuries can occur, meaning it deserves to be addressed and treated as the serious situation it is. That also means legal action can be taken against the at-fault driver in the accident if necessary.

Never assume the at-fault driver gets to just walk away because regular traffic laws don’t always apply. For small crashes with no injuries, you should always collect the other driver’s insurance information and photo-document the damage done to your vehicle so you can file a claim with your insurance company. For larger crashes resulting in injuries, call the authorities, have a police report filed, and speak to a personal injury attorney about whether or not you should file a lawsuit and seek further compensation for the damages suffered.