Does auto insurance cover car accidents on private property?
Car accidents on private property may be handled differently than those that happen on public property. Car accidents on private land will likely be covered by insurance, but there are factors that may affect who is at fault for the auto accident. Private property is not owned by the government like public property is, so the property owner could be held partially liable if negligence is determined.
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UPDATED: Sep 23, 2021
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- Private property is owned by an individual or entity while public property is owned by the government
- Car accidents that occur on private property are likely covered by auto insurance, but the process of filing an insurance claim is different than for accidents on public property
- Owners of private property could be held partially liable for car accidents that occur on their property
An auto accident — and the insurance claims that follow — can be puzzling. Things become even trickier when an accident happens on a private road or in a driveway, parking lot, or parking garage.
Are you feeling overwhelmed after you’ve been involved in an accident on private property? Insurance claims don’t have to be as intimidating or nightmarish as they’re made out to be.
Luckily, there may be ways to pursue compensation for your losses.
Before you dig in, if you’ve been injured in a car accident and you need an injury lawyer, you can enter your ZIP code in our free tool to find one near you.
Read on below to learn how to handle car accidents on private property and what auto insurance coverage may apply.
What is the difference between public and private property?
Before we dive in, let’s touch on the difference between public property vs. private property.
Public property describes areas commonly used by the surrounding public and managed by public authorities. Public property is owned by the state, the government, or a municipal corporation.
Some examples of public property include:
- sidewalks, streets, and highways
- parks and playgrounds
- public schools
Private property, on the other hand, belongs to a specific individual. It can be sold or handed down to another person, but it is protected and cannot be taken for public use.
So, for instance, even though a local restaurant’s parking lot may be used by members of the general public every day, it is still owned by one person: the restaurant owner or franchise owner.
According to the Legal Information Institute (LII), the legal definition of private property includes real estate, but it also includes objects and even intellectual property such as copyrights and patents.
Private roads, private driveways, parking garages, and parking lots are common examples of private property where auto accidents could occur.
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Car Insurance Coverage for Accidents on Private Property
So, does car insurance cover accidents on private property? Yes, but there’s a catch: auto insurance will cover private property accidents only up to the policy limits.
When determining if you can make an insurance claim on private property, what matters most is what type of auto insurance coverage you have.
Aside from New Hampshire and Virginia, every state requires drivers to carry liability insurance. Policy limits may vary, but liability insurance kicks in regardless of whether the accident happened on public or private property.
However, liability coverage only pays for the damage done to someone else’s property. If you’re only carrying liability insurance at the time of the incident, your car won’t be covered.
If you have full coverage auto insurance for your vehicle, your policy should pay for any damage your car sustained on private property. Additionally, collision coverage will also help pay for damage to your own vehicle. This can be helpful if fault is disputed because you won’t need to make a claim with the other driver’s insurance, only your own.
While auto insurance can help pay for damage, determining fault in an accident on private property can be difficult. Unfortunately, if fault is never assigned after a private property accident, your insurance premiums could rise.
Now you see why it’s so important to understand the fine print of your car insurance policy!
What Is Considered Property Damage In A Car Accident?
Any physical object damaged in a car accident is considered property damage. Fortunately, this means any damage caused to someone else’s building, fence, possessions, or landscaping on private property is covered by the property damage portion of your liability insurance.
Here’s an example: if you run into a residential fence on private property, the homeowner can file a property damage claim against your liability insurance. Damage to your vehicle in this scenario will not be covered unless you have collision coverage.
Liability for Car Accidents on Private Property
The first step in filing a claim and determining liability is to find out who was negligent. In legal terms, “negligence” refers to whenever someone’s carelessness causes harm to someone else.
If a driver was distracted or otherwise did not take proper safety precautions as they drove on private property, they were negligent.
If a property owner knew about a hazardous condition and did not rectify it or adequately warn passersby, they were negligent.
Regardless of whether or not the insurance claims involve any injuries, it can be tricky to determine who is responsible for damages.
So who is liable for a car accident on private property?
Earlier I mentioned how public property is owned by the government, but if you get into a crash on a public roadway, the local government isn’t automatically responsible for your damages. The same is true for private property owners.
Private property owners are not necessarily liable for crashes that happen on their property, but there are some instances where they may be partially or entirely responsible. For instance, private property owners may be liable for an accident if they create or neglect hazardous conditions on their property.
Say you get into a car accident on a private driveway because some lawn ornaments or landscaping around the driveway interfered with visibility; the homeowner may be held liable for these conditions.
Comparative Fault in Private Property Accidents
Did you know more than one party may be at fault for a car crash?
When it comes to sharing the blame for an accident, different states have different rules. In a pure comparative negligence state, multiple people might share the responsibility for an accident.
The amount of compensation a victim is entitled to would be reduced by their percentage of negligence. For example, if you have $10,000 in damages, but you are found to be 30% at fault, you could only collect $7,000 from the settlement.
Contributory negligence rules for determining who is at fault in a car accident can vary by state.
Hit and Run on Private Property
It’s happened to most of us: we’re walking back to our car after a shopping trip, and we notice a brand new scrape or door ding. Our poor car was the victim of a runaway shopping cart or oblivious driver!
Who is at fault for an accident in a parking lot like this? Parking lot design and right-of-way is sometimes confusing, but if one car was stopped or parked at the time of the accident, it’s usually safe to say they were not at fault.
Suppose an accident happens in a parking lot or parking garage wherein a parked car is damaged, and the other driver flees the scene. In that case, the victim may be able to use their uninsured motorist coverage to help pay for their damages. The property owner might also have some liability on a premises liability policy.
Note: Always check for surveillance footage! You may be able to use this evidence to track down the at-fault driver. A car accident lawyer can help you obtain the video and analyze all possible avenues for compensation.
Criminal Charges and Private Property Accidents
Things can get complicated if you’re charged with a crime related to your car accident on private property. You may be barred from recovering any compensation. Check out these scenarios:
- If you are an unlicensed driver on private property, you will be penalized for driving without a license. The vehicle’s registered owner can also be held liable for any accidents that occur. Worse still, the vehicle owner’s insurance won’t help out because you are not listed on the policy as an authorized driver.
- If you get into a car accident on private property with no insurance coverage and you are at fault, you must pay for the damages out of your own pocket.
- What happens if you get a DUI? If you are issued a DUI on private property, your case will unfold the same way as if you got a DUI on a public street.
- If you were trespassing on private property at the time of the accident, you might be liable for all damages. In fact, the property owner can sue you even if no harm was done.
What to Do After a Car Accident on Private Property
If you’re involved in a car accident on private land, follow the same steps you would for any other accident. Here are my recommendations:
- Call the police ASAP. It’s always a good idea to call the police to the scene of an accident so they can create an accident report, but do you have to report an accident that occurs on private property? Depending on what state you live in, you may be legally obligated to report the accident.
- Exchange information. Exchange info with any other drivers involved in the accident. Get everyone’s name, insurance information, license plate number, and driver’s license number. Also, record the time, date, and location of the crash. Never leave the scene of an accident without exchanging this information.
- Contact the property owner if they were not present and let them know what happened. Contact the property’s security team or the business owner to file an incident report with them. Keep the property owner’s info on hand in case you need to make a premises liability claim through their insurance.
- Take photos. If you’re able, use your phone camera to take pictures of the scene of the accident. Document the damage done to any vehicles or other property.
- Check for witnesses. If there were any witnesses around—as is often the case with a parking lot accident—get their contact information. Their testimony will be valuable later.
- Check for surveillance footage. Video evidence can help you determine fault, and private properties like parking garages often have security cameras. Leave no stone unturned; even on a residential street, footage of the accident might’ve been captured by a neighbor’s doorbell camera.
- Start an insurance claim. Call and inform your insurance company of the wreck as soon as possible, as well as the at-fault driver’s insurance company. An adjuster will be assigned to handle your claim, and they will provide you with a personalized claim number for future reference.
- See a doctor. Certain auto accident injuries aren’t always noticeable at first glance. Even if you feel “fine” after an accident, you need to be examined for injuries. Many victims try to ignore their aches and pains, but your injuries may worsen if you wait too long. Gaps in treatment could also harm your claim and decrease your settlement amount. Always err on the side of caution and see a doctor!
Accident Reports for Private Property Accidents
Accident reports are important for any accident. However, police officers usually don’t create accident reports or issue tickets or citations to drivers involved in accidents on private property. This makes it difficult to prove liability.
Why don’t police assign fault for private property accidents? While the usual rules of the road still apply to drivers on private property, the guidelines, signage, traffic lights, and other signifiers might not be present on the property. This can complicate the legal side of things and make it more difficult to determine fault.
Additionally, police don’t have jurisdiction over private property, only public roadways. Instead of creating an accident report, they may create an incident report, but those are sometimes left up to security guards or other employees on the property. (An incident report is a simplified version of a police report, and although fault may not be mentioned in it, some evidence is still better than none!)
Always obtain copies of these reports, as they will be crucial supporting evidence for your case.
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Car Accident Lawyers for Private Property Accidents
So will car insurance cover damage on private property? Yes, but context matters. Many different factors can impact responsibility for crashes on private property, and I hope I’ve helped you understand when and how your car insurance will protect you.
Know what to look for. Take plenty of photos, obtain a copy of the police report or incident report, and get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. Most importantly, always remember to check if surveillance footage is available. If no one can prove the accident ever even happened, the insurance company will try to deny your claim. Don’t get stuck!
Finally, don’t accept the first offer from the insurance company. For best results, consult with a lawyer. Never settle for less than you truly deserve.
Car accidents on private roads or property can seem messy, but with the help of a skilled attorney, you can bounce back and avoid the stress of the insurance companies.
If you need help navigating the aftermath of an accident on private property, reach out to a car accident lawyer near you. Most personal injury firms are happy to provide free consultations and steer you in the right direction.
If you were injured in the car accident, you can use our free tool to find the auto accident injury lawyer in your area. Enter your ZIP code into our tool to get started.