Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Apr 7, 2020

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The consequences of hitting a car in a parking lot or on some other private property are the same as for doing so on a public street: if you were at fault, you are liable for the damages caused. The legal rules of negligence apply in the same way for car accidents occurring on private property as they do for public streets.

Negligence is one of the most important concepts in the law. It is the grounds for almost all personal injury lawsuits, from auto accidents to medical malpractice. A failure to use due care which in turn causes injury to someone else gives the injured person a right to collect damages for their injury in a lawsuit.

The classic way to explain negligence is based on a “reasonable person” who always exercises care. The reasonable person always looks where he or she is going, never crosses the street without looking both ways, and so on. So, if you’re doing things in a way that this reasonable person would not, that’s negligence! It’s a concept that is centuries old, but which has continued its fundamental role in our system.

It can sometimes be harder to prove fault in a parking lot accident, especially if traffic lanes are not well marked or are poorly designed so that, for example, it isn’t clear what lane you should have been driving in. On the other hand, if the accident happened because you were texting while you were driving, and you either admit that or a witness saw you doing it, you’re going to be held at fault for the damages.

Perhaps the biggest difference between an accident on a street and one on private property is that, in some jurisdictions, the police will not write tickets for parking lot accidents. In traffic accidents, when the at-fault driver gets a ticket for something like careless driving, and is found guilty of the careless driving, that traffic ticket verdict can sometimes be used to help prove negligence.

Regardless of where the accident occurred, however, the law in your state or locality will likely require you to make a written report to the police if the accident caused more than a minimum amount of damage. If you have been in a car accident and are afraid you might be at fault, you may wish to consult an experienced car accident attorney in your state to discuss your options.