Who is responsible for my destroyed vehicle while left in a private parking lot?

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Who is responsible for my destroyed vehicle while left in a private parking lot?

My car was parked for a couple of months in the back parking lot of a small strip mall. It was disabled and had no insurance. The vehicle was then totally destroyed in an arson. Do I have a case, since the car was not insured and technically should not have been there? There were no signs saying “no parking”, etc.  I would like to take this to small claims court but who should I sue -one of the tenant businesses or the owner-landlord (who resides in a different county and it will be a hardship for me to sue him)?

Asked on August 26, 2010 under Accident Law, New York

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

If the arsonist is arrested and convicted, the court might include restitution as part of the sentence which would result in you receiving compensation for the loss of your vehicle.  Some states have a crime victims compensation fund which might allow you to obtain compensation for the loss of your vehicle.

As for the parking lot, some parking lots have a disclaimer about not being liable for damage to vehicles, etc.  That could be a problem if that is the situation in the mall parking lot where your car was parked.   Despite the disclaimer, you might be able to sue the landlord for negligence for failure to have adequate security at the parking lot.  Prior to filing your lawsuit, you might want to contact the landlord's insurance carrier to file your claim.  If the claim is settled with the insurance carrier, then no lawsuit will be filed.

If the insurance carrier denies your claim or accepts your claim but you are dissatisfied with settlement offers from the insurance carrier, file your lawsuit against the landlord for negligence.  A lawsuit can be filed where the plaintiff (you) reside(s), where the defendant (landlord) resides or where the claim arose.  You can file your lawsuit in the county where you reside and have the landlord served by a process server based in the county where the landlord resides.  The damages (amount of compensation you are seeking in your lawsuit) should include the Bluebook value of your vehicle and court costs such as the court filing fee and process server fee.  If the landlord asserts the defense of assumption of the risk to your negligence lawsuit, that defense would be inapplicable.  Assumption of the risk means that by leaving your car in the parking lot for a couple of months, you recognized and understood the danger and voluntarily chose to encounter it.  Your counterargument would be that assumption of the risk is inapplicable because it was unforeseeable that the car would be destroyed by arson in the landlord's parking lot.


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