Last night, on my way to a holiday party at an Atlantic City casino, I was driving at a slow speed, traversing the levels of a multi-level parking lot, when—suddenly and without warning—a giant SUV came flying around the corner at a high rate of speed. The driver missed my car by what seemed like less than an inch. Thereafter, he revved up and barreled out of the parking lot—at a speed unsafe even outside a parking lot environment. It was clear that the driver had been drinking, quite likely at a holiday party. What’s worse, he had also been talking on his cell phone, and not paying attention.
Almost 25% of all car accidents occur in parking lots, and, while they typically occur at low speeds and don’t result in serious damage, they are sometimes quite serious, especially when alcohol is involved. In the last year, I was retained to represent the legal interests of some unfortunate individuals who sustained catastrophic injuries when hit by drivers backing out of parking spaces—drivers who had not even seen them.
Most parking lot accidents lead to fights regarding who was at fault. For this reason, it is vitally important to document a parking lot accident immediately after it occurs, by filing a police report. In addition, if it takes place on a private property with video cameras, it is wise to ask the facility to preserve the video tapes, in order to avoid spoliation of evidence.
People often choose to “quietly” settle such seemingly minor accidents directly with the other driver, without filing a claim, for fear that their insurance rates will go up. However, if a legal Release of Liability is not issued, a tender of payment can be interpreted as an admission of fault. Just when you think the issue has been resolved, you may end up receiving a letter from the other party claiming head, neck, or back injuries.
It can be more difficult to prove fault in a parking lot accident, due to the fact that lanes are not well marked, or the lot is not designed with sufficient attention to safety. Thus, even when damages seem minimal, you should fully document these damages with your cell phone camera, and file a police report, to protect your legal interests and rights.
Always remember that an accident in a parking lot is an accident nonetheless. Bear this in mind when you celebrate the New Year!