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Who is Liable for a Car Accident on Private Property?

Posted on: March 11, 2021

Although it may be true that most car accidents happen on roads and highways, it is not uncommon for them to occur elsewhere. Highways, roads, and streets are usually government-owned public property, and are when accidents occur, they are treated accordingly. Property that falls outside those parameters is considered to be private. Two examples include residential driveways and grocery store parking lots. Although the immediate aftermath of public and private accidents can be similar, what happens afterward might be different. No matter the location, victims of a car accident are urged to contact an experienced car accident lawyer for assistance.

What are Common Causes of Car Accidents on Private Property?

Many car accidents are caused by the same reasons that they do on public property. Not surprisingly, a main cause is distracted driving. Someone who is texting, changing a radio station, or eating while driving through a parking lot could easily hit another car, a pedestrian, a curb, or a pole. Impaired drivers can also be found in parking lots or in driveways of private homes.

Although it is not as common to find drivers tailgating in parking lots, there are plenty of ways that other kinds of careless and reckless driving can lead to accidents on private property. Backing out of a parking spot without checking, going through a stop sign, and driving too fast are all dangerous, no matter where they happen. However, drivers are not always fully responsible for accidents that happen on private property. Slick ice, snowbanks, and potholes make for unsafe driving surfaces and also cause cars and trucks to crash. When those last kinds of things happen, the property owner could be responsible.

What Should I Do Immediately After the Accident?

The first thing to do after an accident is to check for injuries, since lives may be in danger. It is important to call 911 right away, even if the injuries and damages seem minor. Having a police presence or ambulance could seem excessive for a small fender bender, but some injuries can be much more serious than they look. However, when accidents occur on private property, the law enforcement officers will not have the jurisdiction to write up a police report; an incident report can be provided instead. In any case, it is good to have the police on site in case things get out of control. The other driver could be intoxicated, or an angry homeowner could start acting in a violent manner.

As with accidents on public property, those involved can exchange contact information and photos of their insurance cards. It is also a good idea to take photos of the accident scene, including the license plates, visible injuries, property damage, skid marks, and anything else that can help show the conditions that may have contributed to the incident.

Sometimes, liable parties will offer money to pay for the injuries or damages but accepting that is not advised. It is not possible to know what the exact expenses will be and taking the cash at the scene could impact the ability to collect fair damages later on. Admitting fault for the accident is another mistake. Not only can those statements be misinterpreted or exaggerated by others, but also saying the wrong things can cause insurance companies to deny claims.

Regarding insurance companies, the provider should be contacted as soon as possible. Delaying this could also lead to claim delays or denials. If medical care was necessary, it is also essential to keep a record of all the treatment and expenses incurred.

What Should I Know About Liability on Private Property?

 Responsibility for the accident will depend on the circumstances. On private property, the owners can be held partially or fully responsible in some cases, even when they were not directly involved. If a car crashed into a pole in a public university parking lot because the lot was covered with ice, the injured driver may be able to claim that the university was at fault.

Property owners are responsible for keeping their grounds reasonably safe. When they do not maintain their parking lots, the surfaces can become slippery and hazardous and cause accidents. Another cause of an accident could be a lack of signage. Without signs at intersections, drivers will not always know who has the right of way. Also, if the property had unmarked construction work going on, broken lights, or other problems related to poor maintenance or design, there is a chance that the property owner could be held liable for an accident.

If the property owner has a premises liability policy, their insurance may be able to cover the damages. There may also be security footage available that recorded the accident, but not all property owners are willing to share this information because they want to protect their own interests. Getting them to cooperate could be a problem.

How can I Determine Liability?

Liability is determined by identifying which party involved was negligent. Basically, negligence is the failure of one or more parties to use proper care; this behavior then results in an injury to another party. Insurance companies and courts of law will look at all the evidence as well as what a reasonable person would have done in that situation.

When two or more vehicles crash in parking lots or other private properties, tensions build up quickly and arguments can ensue. Even if it is obvious that one party caused the accident, admitting fault or getting in an argument is never recommended. Law enforcement officers can arrive at the scene and provide some sense of order. Their incident reports can also help with determining who was liable. Fault does not have to be determined immediately following the scene. If it turns into an ongoing dispute between the involved parties and/or the insurance company, the photos and other information taken at the scene could be helpful. An experienced car accident lawyer could provide some guidance in these situations.

Should I Initiate a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Serious car accidents can lead to significant medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and long-term pain and suffering. All of these may be compensated for in personal injury lawsuits, but it depends on the circumstances. Minor cuts and bruises and a few dents on the vehicle will likely not qualify, but severe injuries that send victims to hospitals could be the basis for a lawsuit. That is because there could be ambulance fees, surgeries, follow-up treatment, temporary or permanent disability, and ongoing care. As a result, the injured party may not be able to return to work in the same capacity or at all.

Vehicles can also get badly damaged or totaled in parking lot accident, and most people know how costly that can be. Pain and suffering is a less tangible kind of damage for which car accident victims may seek compensation. It could be mental/emotional damage related to the crash, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, a loss of the enjoyment of life, and chronic pain.

When considering a personal injury claim, potential plaintiffs should keep in mind that state laws will also impact the type of compensation they may be able to receive. All states require drivers to have auto insurance to drive legally, but of course not all drivers have policies. There are also coverage limits to how much the companies will pay, and it may not be enough to pay for the victim’s expenses.

Comparative negligence laws also impact the damages that may be awarded to plaintiffs. These rules prevent or limit injured parties from receiving 100 percent of the damages when injured parties are found to have some liability for accidents. New Jersey and New York both have these laws, but they differ in some specifics.

Freehold Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Provide Trusted Legal Guidance for Victims Involved in Car Accidents

Whether your car accident happened on public or private property, the injuries and property damage you have suffered can impact your quality of life, temporarily or permanently. The Freehold car accident lawyers at Ellis Law will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Our team of experienced lawyers has helped hundreds of car accident victims. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.