If you are in a bailment situation, the lot owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care in safeguarding your vehicle. The owner would be liable if your windshield gets broken, someone crashes into your car, someone steals your car, or someone breaks into your car while the lot owner was not exercising reasonable care to prevent harm from happening to your car. For example, the lot owner cannot leave the keys in car and not guard the car at all, leave windows open, or deliver the car to the wrong person. Some factors that determine reasonable care include:
- The number of attendants on duty
- The ability of attendants to observe people and cars in the garage
- The presence or absence of fences or barriers
- The competence of attendants
- The foreseeability of harm that happened
If you are not in a bailment situation, you need to show negligence by the lot owner caused the damage or your loss in order to be successful in a lawsuit.
Bailment is a temporary transfer of property to another for a limited time and for a specific purpose. The transfer of property in a bailment is only in regards to possession, not ownership. For cars, you turn over possession and care over to the lot, such as giving your car keys to a parking lot attendant. If you store your car in a lot for a prolonged period, but you maintain possession by keeping the keys or you pay a fee to park and retrieve your car on your own, you are likely not in a bailment situation.
Some indications of bailment include:
- Intent to transfer possession to the lot
- The lot is enclosed
- The lot issues a claim ticket that identifies your car, not just one with the time of entry stamped on it
- An attendant parks the car
- You leave the keys at the garage or parking lot
Bailees, people who the car is bailed to, are responsible for the contents of a vehicle to the extent that it is reasonable that the items inside would be there. Otherwise, lot owners are only responsible for ordinary equipment inside the car and items in plain view.
Parking lot operators will often attempt to disclaim their liability for loss or damage to your car and its contents. These disclaimers may be printed on your parking ticket or posted on a sign by the entrance. However, some courts say that such disclaimers are not valid if the customer has no actual knowledge of them when he parks. Also, the lot cannot disclaim its own negligence. Additionally, if an employee on duty ends up damaging your car while doing something beyond the scope of his employment, the operator cannot disclaim this and is liable for damages.
If your car or its contents have been damaged or stolen at a parking lot, a criminal lawyer can advise you of your rights and remedies against the parking lot. You may also want to file a police report and contact your automobile insurance carrier.