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Parking Lot Accidents: Who Is Liable?

elevated view of parking lot during snow.
By Kellie Pantekoek, Esq. | Last updated on

There is a lot of hustle and bustle this time of year. Between holiday shopping, school events, and get-togethers with family and friends, many people are doing a lot of running around from one place to the next. This also means a lot of time driving — and maneuvering around crowded parking lots.

If you've ever driven in a busy parking lot during the month of December, you know the kind of hazards you are up against: lots of traffic, drivers in a rush, distracted pedestrians, and — depending on where you live — snow and ice. Unfortunately, these hazards can, and do, cause parking lot accidents.

Determining Fault in Parking Lot Accidents

Liability in parking lot accidents typically depends on two things: whether both cars were moving at the time, and which car had the right-of-way.

Determining who is at fault in a parking lot accident is usually pretty easy if only one vehicle was moving at the time. Generally, the driver who was moving is liable as long as the non-moving vehicle was legally parked or stopped.

For example, if a driver runs into the back of a vehicle stopped at a traffic sign in a parking lot, that driver is likely liable — just like if this accident were to happen on a roadway.

Who Had The Right-of-Way?

Right-of-way is another determining factor in parking lot accident liability. Generally, the driver who had the right-of-way is not liable unless they were doing something illegal at the time like speeding.​ Note: Many large parking lots have posted speed limits, but when in doubt, 15 mph is a good limit to stay under.

Drivers in thoroughfare lanes have the right-of-way over drivers in feeder lanes, so drivers in feeder lanes must stop or yield. Thoroughfare lanes are the main lanes that generally exit to a street. Feeder lanes typically start and end at the thoroughfares and usually bring drivers to parking spots.

Liability in Common Parking Lot Accident Scenarios

Here are a few common parking lot accident scenarios and who is likely liable:

  • When both drivers are backing up out of parking stalls at the same time, neither has the right-of-way. Both are expected to watch for other vehicles and both would likely be liable in a collision.
  • When a driver backing out of a parking space hits a moving vehicle in a traffic lane, the driver in the traffic lane has the right-of-way. The driver backing up would likely be primarily liable for the accident.
  • When a driver pulls forward out of a parking space and hits a moving vehicle in a traffic lane, the driver in the traffic lane has the right-of-way. Since both vehicles were moving, the drivers could share liability, but the driver who was pulling out of the parking space is probably mostly liable.
  • When two drivers are trying to snag a parking space and collide, the driver who did not have to turn across the lane of traffic has the right-of-way. Since both vehicles were moving, the drivers could share liability but the driver who turned left across traffic should have yielded and is likely primarily liable.

Hopefully, these scenarios help clear up questions about right-of-way in parking lots. It's especially important to keep these rules in mind in busy parking lots this holiday season.

If an accident has already occurred and no one was injured, you will probably be able to work it out with your insurance company. However, if there were injuries or you feel the insurance companies are not playing fair, it's a good idea to meet with a car accident attorney for advice.

Happy holidays and safe driving from the team at FindLaw!

Related Resources:

5 Tips for Dealing With Parking Lot Accidents (FindLaw's Injured Blog)

Bumped in the Parking Lot? 3 Ways to Recover for Dents, Dings (FindLaw's Injured Blog)

Parking Lot Injuries: When Can You Sue? (FindLaw's Injured Blog)

What to Do When You Hit a Parked Car (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)

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