Author: Kathleen M. Smith, Fredericksburg, VA Personal Injury Attorney
Parking lots are dangerous places for both pedestrians and motorists. Cars are pulling into and out of parking spots, drivers’ attention is diverted, customers are walking to and from their vehicles, designated travel lanes are not clearly marked, parked vehicles obscure sight lines and signage directing the flow of traffic is often inadequate. These factors create a veritable perfect storm for motor vehicle collisions. This article is intended to provide important guidance for people involved in parking lot accidents.
- Most Parking Lots are on Private Property:
Most parking lots are located on private property. Accordingly, police officers who respond to collisions that occur in parking lots do not have jurisdictional authority to issue traffic citations for any moving violations that led to the collision.Responding police officers know that they cannot issue a traffic citation and thus they often describe the collision as “not reportable.” When a collision is designated in this manner, the police officer does not write up or file an official report documenting the incident. For people injured in parking lot accidents, this can be unfortunate because without a police report valuable information can be lost. To avoid a problem later on:
- Write down the name and residential address of the at-fault party.
- If the at-fault vehicle is owned by another person write down the name of the vehicle’s owner, as well.
- Obtain the name of the insurance company for the at-fault party and/or the owner of the vehicle.
- Take photographs of any signs or road markings that denote right of way or otherwise direct the flow of traffic in the parking lot.
- Ensure that the at-fault party’s insurance company is notified of the incident as soon as possible.
- Insurance Companies Assume a Low Speed Collision
Unlike a major road or highway, people driving in parking lots are typically not traveling at a high rate of speed. Most parking lot collisions involve vehicles that are backing out of parking spaces. Although people can be seriously injured in low speed motor vehicle collisions, insurance carriers asked to review parking lot collisions will often deny claims or make exceedingly low offers simply because the involved vehicles were moving slowly at the time of impact. To appropriately document the collision and the resulting injuries:
- Take photographs of any property damage that resulted from the collision.
- Photograph both your vehicle and the at-fault driver’s vehicle.
- While photographs that are ‘zoomed in’ on the damaged area are nice, make sure to photograph the entire affected body panel to put that damage in proper context.
- Photograph the scene where the collision occurred.
- Seek immediate medical treatment and tell the treating physician about the collision, what happened to your body inside the car and when you first felt pain.
- Make sure that your claimed medical treatment is reasonable and appropriate in light of your injuries.
- Virginia’s Look Out Law Still Applies
Pursuant to Virginia law, every driver has a duty to keep a proper look out.  Virginia’s Supreme Court defines lookout as a “duty … to use ordinary care to look in all directions for vehicles that would affect [their] driving, to see what a reasonable person would have seen, and to react as a reasonable person would have acted to avoid a collision under the circumstances.”  If a driver fails to keep a proper lookout, they are not entitled to recover monetary damages for personal injuries that result from a motor vehicle collision. As applied to parking lot collisions, the most common ‘look out’ scenario involves vehicles that are backing out of parking spots or coming around a tight corner. If a driver is coming down a through lane, either entering or exiting a parking lot, and they see a vehicle backing out of a parking spot, the oncoming driver has an obligation to stop their vehicle to avoid an accident. To avoid having a personal injury claim improperly denied on a ‘look out’ defense:
- Do not give a recorded statement to any insurance company, including your own, without consulting an attorney.
Parking lot claims and cases can be difficult to navigate. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Allen and Allen represent people who are injured in parking lot collisions every day. We understand the traps and pitfalls of parking lot litigation. If you or someone you know is injured in a parking lot, follow the advice provided above and call us for a free consultation.