Who is liable for damage caused to a car in a car wash?

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Who is liable for damage caused to a car in a car wash?

I took my car, or tried to take it through, a car wash at a convenience store. Before going through, I read the directions carefully. They were very faded out and weathered. The directions did not say how to approach the washing mechanism or where precisely to place the car. In every other car wash I have been to, the car should be driven, with the driver’s side tire in between the guide rails which then pull the car through. I attempted to do this, in the absence of other directions but damaged my car and must now replace a tire and bumper. Who should pay? Owner of the store called later to ask for my insurance agent’s name.

Asked on January 18, 2011 under Accident Law, Tennessee

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

There is no easy answer--it depends on who was liable, or at fault, which in turn will depend on relative carelessness. In your favor is that the directions seem to have been difficult to read, possibly incomplete, and it appears that the set-up of this wash may have been atypical (which would put a higher burden on the wash to make sure  the directions/instructions are clear). On the other hand, if it was unclear, you arguably had a duty to ask someone on duty and seek clarification.Thus, it's not possible to say with certainty who is responsible--it depends on the exacdt circumstances, as interpreted by a judge and/or jury if you sue.

First, if you have collision, etc. insurance, contract your insurer--you may be able to get most from your own insurance, and if you don't contact them, you may be violating your duties under the policy and preclude yourself from recovery from your own policy. Second, submit a claim to the wash and its insurer for any amount not paid by your own insurance. If you're not paid voluntarily, then consider whether you should sue. For a smaller amount--say, less than $1,500--you'd probably be better off suing yourself; for a larger amount, a lawyer could help you.


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