When there’s a parking lot somewhere, there’s a person or organization that owns it. It may be public or private, but regardless of its status, the owner has responsibility for the safety of anyone who parks in that lot. Even if it’s a private lot, people who park there are considered “invitees.” The “host” of the “invitees” owes the people who park a duty of care. Read on for more information.
What Is a Duty of Care?
A duty of care is the legal term for the responsibility assumed by someone who enters property ownership. Owners need to keep the property in a condition that will prevent illnesses or injuries from occurring on the property, even if someone is trespassing.
If someone wants to file a personal injury lawsuit against a property owner, such as someone who owns a parking lot, they have to prove three things around this concept:
- The parking lot owner owed people using that site a duty of care. That means they were responsible for keeping the lot in a safe condition. The determination of “safe condition” is somewhat open to interpretation; generally, it means what a reasonable person would consider safe. For example, suppose a parking lot has large potholes that aren’t being patched reasonably quickly, and there aren’t any signage warning drivers of those potholes. In that case, the parking lot owner may not exercise a proper duty of care. Another example is a parking lot that’s poorly lighted.
- The parking lot owner did not achieve the duty of care. In the examples above, imagine someone reported the potholes to the parking lot owner, who refused to address them. Or someone reported that several streetlights in the parking lot weren’t functioning, and again, the owner didn’t take steps to fix them. Then they have not met the duty of care, also known as breaching the duty of care.
- Someone was injured due to the breach of duty of care. A driver who landed in a pothole and had damage to their car or their body, or someone who was assaulted because the lighting in the parking lot was unreasonably poor, could be said to have been injured by the breach of the duty of care.
What Conditions Can Cause Injuries in a Parking Lot?
There are several, which can vary depending on where someone is in the state. Northern climates subject to wintry weather can have ice and snow problems that need to be addressed. Even in parts of the state that don’t get snow, heavy rains can cause parking problems. Damaged surfaces, including potholes, can lead to injuries. Poor lighting can lead to security risks for anyone walking through the lot. Finally, parking lots should have adequate signage, so drivers know if they’re in a parking lot and if it’s a lot open to the public.
What Is Premises Liability?
Premises liability is the term that is used when someone is injured because of a defective or unsafe condition on someone else’s property. The key to successfully receiving damages for this type of situation is to prove that the property owner was negligent. That means the owner had little or no intention of providing reasonable care even if they were informed of the danger. Someone who was notified that streetlights in a parking lot were burned out and replaced them in a reasonable period may not be held legally liable if something happened while the lights were out because it’s reasonable to give them time to react. But if they were notified and nothing happened for days or weeks, premises liability may be involved.
What if Someone Used the Parking Lot Illegally and Was Injured?
Suppose the parking lot is clearly marked private or closed, and someone parks there anyway and is injured. In that case, the property owner could still be held liable under premises liability. Even though the person parking the vehicle is technically trespassing, which is illegal in California, the parking lot owner is still expected to provide a duty of care to prevent anyone from becoming injured, whether they were there legally or not.
However, someone who was trespassing and became injured while doing so may receive a lower amount of damages, even if they prove that the parking lot owner didn’t meet the duty of care. Some judges and juries will consider that the person was trespassing and could have avoided injury if they’d followed the law.
What Should I Do if Was Injured in a Parking Lot?
First, check in with your doctor. Even if the injury seems minor, it could mask something more serious. Some injuries don’t exhibit symptoms right away. Then call us as soon as possible at (951)554-1010 to request a free consultation. We can walk you through the options for seeking damages or other legal remedies.
The parking lot’s owner may try to contact you via their insurance representative or attorney. Don’t speak with either one of them. They represent the parking lot owner, and their job is to get you to say that the responsibility for any injury is yours, not theirs. If they offer a settlement, don’t sign it–they’ll offer the lowest amount possible, and it’s entirely possible that you could receive more by going to court. Whether they call or write you, don’t respond to questions or sign anything. Instead, refer them to your attorney for all questions and concerns.