What could spoil your day more than leaving your car in a parking lot and returning to see its tires slashed? It’s a sickening but common scenario that leaves everyone angry. In a situation when someone finds their car in a parking lot with slashed tires, doors that have been keyed, or broken windows, the question that naturally needs to be answered is who is liable for the damages.
The question of which party is liable for a damaged car in a parking lot can be answered by understanding the concept of bailment. The act of bailment means a temporary transfer of property to another for a limited time and for a specific purpose. This definition is only applicable in the confines of possession, not ownership. For example, if you decide to give your valet car keys, you are ensuring that the lot personnel are in possession of and caring for your vehicle.
Other criteria for bailment include:
• You intend to transfer possession to the lot
• Your car is in an enclosed lot
• An attendant parks the car
• You do not keep the keys
• The lot issues a claim ticket that identifies your car, not just one with the time of entry stamped on it
If you are simply parking the car in a lot and keeping the keys with you, you are not in a bailment situation. If this is the case, in order for the lot owners to be liable, you need to prove that negligence by the lot owner caused the damage or your loss.
In a bailment situation, it is the responsibility of the lot owner to safeguard your vehicle. In this case, the owner is liable if your windshield gets broken into, someone steals your car, someone crashes your car, and of course if someone breaks into your car and the lot owner was not taking precautions.
Naturally, when these types of conflicts arise, lot owners will try to disclaim liability for loss or damage to your car and contents. These disclaimers may be printed on your parking ticket or posted on a sign. However, legal rules can clash. The lot cannot disclaim anything if they have exhibited negligence, especially if an employee on duty is the one who has damaged your car. Furthermore, some courts say that such disclaimers are not valid if the customer has no knowledge of them when he parks.
In the end, the consequences for these situations are at the discretion of the respective state. It is a problem commonly found. For example, a towing company in Trenton, New Jersey was flooded with calls after an incident this past February when several people woke up with their tires slashed and they could not go to work. Some of the damages resulted in at least $400, and the police didn’t take reports of stolen cars.
A larger-scale incident in Chicago resulted in a more positive outcome. On June 28th, 2011, 51 floats for the Chicago Pride Parade had their tires slashed. Nearly all were able to be repaired, but the cost was over $20,000. It was thought to be a hate crime against people who identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender. However, the positive outcome of the event was that the turnout for the parade ended up being the largest one for this parade yet. Still, no matter where incidents like these happen, they are always upsetting!