If my disabled vehicle was parked in a parking lot and was then destroyed in an arson, is the owner of lot liable?

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If my disabled vehicle was parked in a parking lot and was then destroyed in an arson, is the owner of lot liable?

My car was parked 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. Can I sue, and if so, should it be against the store or the landlord of the strip mall or both? I want to take this to small claims court and have been in touch with landlord’s insurer, who said they would not pay on this but would be willing to give me $200 in lieu of going to court (their attorney’s fee). They say it was a public lot and the landlord is not responsible. I think it was private lot, does that make a difference? What are my options?

Asked on June 22, 2011 under Insurance Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

On what grounds would you sue? Do you believe the landlord or his staff burned the car? Or did the landlord make some representation (or promise or assertion) that cars were secure or that the landlord took responsibility for them?

If the above were true you may have a cause of action; if not, however, you very likely do not. The fact that a car is damaged or destroyed on someone's property does *not* by itself make someone owning or renting that property liable, or financially responsible. Instead, there must be fault, which is either an intentional act, a careless act doing the damage, or a careless or intentional failure to fulfill a duty to guard the property in the person's control--but simply parking on someone's lot does not impose on them such a duty. So unless the landlord did something wrong or promised in some way to take care of the car, he, she, or it is likely not liable.


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