Parking Lot and Garage Damage Laws

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 What Happens if My Car is Stolen or Damaged in a Parking Lot?

Bailment is the temporary transfer of property to another individual for a limited time and for a specific purpose. In a bailment, the transfer of property is only in regards to possession, not to ownership. 

A bailor is the owner of the property that is transferred. A bailee is the individual who holds the transferred property. 

The property that is held by the bailee is held in trust for the benefit of the bailor. It is important to note that this type of bailment is totally different from a bail bond.

A bailor has the right to receive their property back in an acceptable manner. For example, their vehicle should be returned to them in the same condition in which they left it if it was valet parked. What may be considered acceptable returned property by a bailee will depend on the situation.

If an individual is in a bailment situation, the lot owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care in safeguarding their vehicle. The lot owner can be held liable for parking garage negligence if: 

  • An individual’s windshield gets broken; 
  • An individual crashes into their car;
  • A perpetrator steals another individual’s car; or
  • A perpetrator breaks into the individual’s car while the low owner was not exercising reasonable care to prevent the harm from occurring to the vehicle.

For example, the owner of a parking garage or lot has parking lot responsibility and cannot leave the keys in a vehicle and fail to guard that vehicle, leave the vehicle’s windows open, or deliver the vehicle to the wrong individual. Some of the factors which determine reasonable care may include:

  • The number of attendants on duty;
  • The attendants’ ability to observe individuals and vehicles in the garage;
  • The presence or absence of barriers or fences;
  • The competence of the attendants; and
  • The foreseeability of the harm that occurred.

If an individual is in a bailment situation, they will be required to show that the lot owner’s negligence caused the damage or loss in order to prevail in a lawsuit.

What is Bailment?

As previously noted, bailment occurs when property is temporarily transferred to another for a limited time and for a specific purpose. The transfer of property which occurs in a bailment is only in regards to possession, no to ownership.

In the case of a vehicle, an individual turns over their possession and care of the vehicle over to the lot, such as when they give their car keys to the parking lot attendant. It is important to note that if an individual stores their vehicle in a lot for a prolonged period but they maintain possession of the vehicle by keeping their keys, they are likely not in a bailment situation. 

This is also the case if the individual pays a fee to park their vehicle and retrieves their vehicle on their own. On the other hand, indications of a bailment situation may include:

  • Intent to transfer possession of the vehicle to the lot;
  • The lot is enclosed;
  • The lot issues a claim ticket that identifies the vehicle, not just a ticket with the time of entry stamped on it;
  • An attendant parks the car; and
  • The individual leaves the keys to the vehicle at the garage or parking lot.

There are two types of bailment terms, fixed and indefinite. A fixed term means that the owner has deposited their property with the bailee for a specific period of time and if that property is not reclaimed within a set period of time, it is considered abandoned.

An indefinite term indicates that there was no agreement regarding how long the property was to be in the possession of the bailee. Therefore, even if the property was left in the bailee’s possession for a long period of time, the property will not be considered abandoned unless the bailee provides notice to the property owner.

What About the Contents of My Car?

Bailees, or individuals to whom the vehicle is bailed to, are responsible for the contents of the vehicle to the extent that it is reasonable that the items inside would remain there. Otherwise, lot owners are only responsible for the ordinary equipment inside of the vehicle as well as the items that are in plain view.

What About Disclaimers?

Disclaimers are statements which are used to specify or limit the scope of rights and obligations which are enforceable in a legally recognized relationship, such as hosts and visitors and manufacturers and consumers. A disclaimer typically acts to relieve a party of liability in a situation which involves risk or uncertainty. A warning label or sign is a common type of disclaimer. 

For example, the owner of a playground may post a sign which states, “enter or use at your own risk.” This disclaimer may serve to lessen or remove an owner’s liability in the event that a patron of the playground is injured while on the playground.

A parking lot or garage operator will, in many cases, attempt to disclaim their liability for any loss or damage to a vehicle and its contents. These disclaimers can be printed on a parking ticket or posted on a sign by the entrance to the lot or garage. 

Some courts, however, provide that these types of disclaimers are not valid if the customer has no actual knowledge of the disclaimer at the time they park. In addition, the garage or lot cannot disclaim their own negligence. If an employee who is on duty damages a vehicle while engaging in an activity outside the scope of their employment, the operator will not be able to disclaim their actions and will be liable for damages they caused. 

It is also important to be aware that a disclaimer may or may not be enforceable, depending on the laws of the state as well as the nature of the disclaimer. A disclaimer can be used in almost every type of legal or social relationship. Therefore, proving that a disclaimer is enforceable may sometimes be complex.

Another issue with disclaimers is whether the injured party consented to the disclaimer. In the majority of cases, disclaimers are not enforceable if the other party did not consent or was coerced or forced into recognizing the disclaimer.

An individual can consent to a disclaimer in different ways. For example, disclaimers may be contained in contracts and a party may consent by signing the contract. 

An individual’s actions may also demonstrate their consent. This may include being present on a property that is dangerous despite reading the warning signs.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Parking Lot or Garage Problem?

It is essential to have the assistance of a lawyer for any parking lot or garage issues you may be facing. If your vehicle or the contents of your vehicle were damaged or stolen in a parking lot or garage, your lawyer can advise you of your rights and available remedies against the lot or garage. It may also be a good idea to file a police report as well as contact your automobile insurance carrier.


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