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Q: My car was struck by another in a parking lot when I was Christmas shopping a year ago. Nobody was seriously hurt, but my car had a little damage. The other driver refused to give me his insurance information because he didn’t want his rates to go up and

A:

During the holiday shopping season, traffic in parking lots becomes even more chaotic and confusing than the rest of the year. It doesn’t help that fog, rain, or snow can also make driving more challenging. The number of parking lot crashes in Pennsylvania always spikes in November and December as the onrush of shoppers create more opportunities for accidents.

It is true that most parking lots are private property. Of course, we mean street-level parking lots here, rather than multistory parking structures and garages.

The idea that the law doesn’t apply to private parking lots, though, is just silly. If that were true—if parking lots were lawless zones—then nobody would ever receive a ticket for parking in a handicap-accessible space without the proper authorization, or by parking in a fire lane. If private property rights overruled the public law, then robbery and other crimes would be considered legal in parking lots.

The driver who caused your parking lot auto accident wasn’t correct. Now, he may sincerely believe what he told you; we’ve heard a lot of people claim over the years (incorrectly!) that “private property means the police have no authority.” That’s simply not the case.

This mistaken impression may be due to the unique features of a parking lot. The typical parking lot doesn’t have well-marked traffic lanes or traffic signals, few crosswalks, and other crucial design elements of a street. Police don’t usually patrol parking lots looking for traffic offenders. Taken together, this has led to the common error that police have no authority there.

But let’s just set that aside for a moment. Nobody was hurt when your parking lot accident happened a year ago, and that’s an outcome we can all be happy about. Nevertheless, you are at risk from injury as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian each time you visit a store or shopping center. It’s quite possible you may be involved in a parking lot traffic incident again some time in the future. We want you to remember these three things if that happens:

  • Right-of-way rules are still fully enforced in parking lots. Parking lots are not free-for-all zones and parking doesn’t have winners and losers. Don’t let another driver bully you into believing that you can’t hold him responsible for his actions.
  • Insurance collision rules still apply in parking lots. You are obligated under your insurance policies to report every car accident. The other driver’s refusal to identify himself or to exchange insurance information may mean he is uninsured. If this ever happens again, try to record the license number and a description of the car that struck you and report the incident to the police immediately.
  • The property owner may have liability. If poor parking lot design or inadequate traffic control was a factor in your collision, the property owner may be held responsible for any losses you sustain.

Consulting a car accident lawyer is a wise course after any central Pennsylvania parking lot auto accident. At Schmidt Kramer, we have a sterling record of getting fair compensation for clients in Hershey, Hummelstown, Mechanicsburg, and surrounding areas who have been the victims of parking lot accidents at all seasons of the year. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, call our injury law firm today at 717-888-8888 or 888-476-0807. At your request, we will also send you a FREE copy of our client report, Who Pays My Injury Claim: Understanding Joint and Several Liability?

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