Last Update: 8/28/18
According to a study on parking lot injuries, which focused on parking lots located at schools and college campuses, over half of all parking lot claims involved some type of slip and fall or trip and fall.
What caused these accidents to happen? According to the study, many of these falls were the result of:
- Poor lighting
- Broken gravel or curbing
- Uneven surfaces
- Unsecured parking bollards
- Ground holes, such as manholes, water meters, or drainage grates with defective coverings.
However, in our experience, there are many other common causes of parking lot slip and fall and trip and fall accidents, including:
- Trash and debris,
- cracks in the pavement
- speed bumps,
- broken wheel stops,
- unpainted surfaces,
- slippery surfaces from rain, or
- concrete barriers.
Parking lots can be a dangerous place where people suffer serious injuries with long-term consequences, including the permanent impairment of a body part. Often times, victims of these slip and fall accidents have to deal with issues like long term pain and suffering, extended physical therapy, lost wages from being off work as they recover from an injury to a shoulder, ankle, wrist, or hand.
In order to properly evaluate the viability of this type of personal injury claim, one of the first issues to examine is whether or not the owner or operator of the parking lot was negligent and, if so, whether or not that negligence lead to the victim’s injuries. However, in order to prove negligence a victim needs evidence of wrongdoing.
What Proof Do You Need For Your Parking Lot Claim?
In a parking lot injury case, in order to prove negligence a victim should obtain witness statements, request copies of any video surveillance, incident report, paramedic or medical provider report(s), and request documents about past similar accidents in that parking lot (if the owner does not want to provide this information, a trip and fall lawsuit will have to be filed which, if necessary, gives a victim the power to ask a Judge to issue an Order compelling the owner to provide this information).
In those situations where a personal injury lawsuit is filed, the formal process of “discovery” is normally used to obtain this evidence. In a parking lot slip and fall case, discovery will include requesting the production of maintenance logs and having the owner answer questions in a deposition about past slip and fall accidents.
Additionally, a victim will want to explore how the owner fulfilled the duty of care it owed to its invitees by requesting evidence, for example, about the owner’s procedures for routinely checking for dangerous conditions on their property.
**QUICK FACT: A parking lot slip and fall victim has 4 years from the date of the fall to file a lawsuit in Florida.
What Is The Duty Of Care Owed To A Parking Lot Slip And Fall Victim?
The owner of the parking lot has the following two duties to its business invitees:
(1) to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition;
(2) to give warning of concealed perils.
If, for example, there is a crack in the parking lot asphalt from the scorching heat of the Florida sun, or there is a slippery sidewalk surface from a recent rain, then the owner has a duty of care to the people using its parking lot or sidewalk to protect or to warn them about these dangers (which can include the use of warning signs or yellow warning tape).
For more on proving up a Florida premises liability claim, check out our earlier posts including, “What Type Of Legal Duty Does A Florida Property Owner Have For Injuries To Visitors? Florida Premises Liability’s Invitee, Licensee, Trespasser Distinctions.”
How Does The Owner’s Knowledge Of A Dangerous Condition Impact A Parking Lot Injury Claim?
Under Florida law, before the owner or operator of the Florida parking lot can be held liable for a victim’s injuries, the injury victim has the burden to prove negligence by showing that the owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition that led to the victim’s injuries. This is done by providing admissible evidence of negligence like video surveillance and other widely accepted evidence.
Risk Of Loss From Parking Lot Slip And Fall Accidents
Fortunately, most parking lot owners carry some type of liability insurance that covers this type of casualty event. When an accident happens, the first thing a business owner normally does is contact its insurance company which then assigns an insurance adjuster to process the claim. This includes assessing the cause of the accident and reviewing the victim’s damages.
Over the years, insurance companies have developed their own research studies examining the risk of harm from a fall in a parking lot, which they have compiled into “risk manuals” and similar documents to share with their policyholders. Some of this risk research is available online, such as the one published by Traveler’s Insurance. One reason for sharing this information, is to help its policyholders reduce the risk of these injuries by providing guides to evaluate the effectiveness of the policyholder’s policies and procedures for preventing a slip and fall from occurring on their property.
Using Insurance Risk Manuals To Help Build Your Claim for Compensation
As part of proving a parking lot slip and fall claim, a victim may want to be familiar with an insurance company’s risk manual to discover how these companies assess the risk of harm in a parking lot slip and fall.
Specifically, these risk manuals can help a claimant understand the risk control measures that an insurance company believes are considered reasonable for a parking lot owner or manager to take in order to protect against these accidents, and then apply that information as leverage when dealing with an adjuster.
What Steps Should A Business Take To Avoid A Parking Lot Slip And Fall?
Below are some questions for someone who has suffered an injury after falling down in a Florida parking lot to consider as they prepare their damage claim (from material provided by Travelers’ Risk Evaluation Guide, as well as online information provided by AmTrust and Society Insurance).
- Were there speed bumps in the parking lot to prevent people from driving too fast?
- If so, how easy was it to see these speed bumps? Were they painted in bright colors? Did they have reflectors?
- Did these speed bumps contrast visually against the surface of the parking lot or space so that they were easily seen?
- How were these speed bumps designed? Were they “low-profile,” where they are very long across the traffic path but not that high, with only a short rise?
- How about parking stops, those concrete bumpers that prevent a vehicle from pulling too far into the space. Did they extend past the space, sticking out between the parked cars?
- Were they longer than the customary six feet?
- What about those metal grates with holes in them to drain rain water? Where were they? Did they have paint or reflectors? How visible were they as compared to the surface of the surrounding parking lot?
- Did the parking lot have any potholes? Cracks? Dips or depressions?
- Could you see any repairs in the parking lot, where past potholes, cracks, or dips had been fixed?
- Does the parking lot operator have a repair record?
What does this repair record show about repairs made to the parking lot?
- Does this record also have any scheduling for regular and routine checks of the parking lot to see if repairs are needed?
- How fast are repairs made and the need is discovered? Day, weeks, sporadically?
- What’s the budget that has been set aside to maintain this parking lot each year?
- What’s the budget to repave this parking lot?
- How often is this scheduled to take place? Is it even on the calendar?
- What about the lighting for the parking lot – is there any?
- What kind of lighting is provided for the parking lot?
- Where all the lights working at the time of the accident?
- What is the repair and maintenance schedule for replacing burnt out light bulbs?
- What is the repair and maintenance schedule for electrical issues with parking lot lighting?
- Are these repair and maintenance schedules being followed?
- Who is assigned to do these repair and maintenance checks?
- Who is assigned to do the actual work of repair and maintenance?
- Are there any islands in the parking lot?
- Do these islands have curbs?
- Do these islands contrast visually against the surface of the parking lot or space so that they are easily seen?
- Are the curbs to the island painted? What color? Does this help to make them easier to see at night? During the day?
- How often does someone check the parking lot to see if these curbs need to be repainted?
- What kind of paint is used in the parking lot? Is it easily seen? Is it slip resistant?
- Are there any barriers or pylons in this parking lot?
- How are they used? Are they easily seen by those using the parking lot?
- What about the overall surface of the parking lot, is it even?
- Where are there uneven surfaces?
- Are there protections in place here to help anyone walking over these uneven surfaces?
- What about sand – is there a procedure in place to keep sand and water off the parking lot surfaces?
- How is this done? Who does this?
- Is it done at the same time that customers or employees are needing to walk on the parking lot surface?
- What companies are involved in the overseeing, inspection, repair, or maintenance of this parking lot?
- What are their addresses and phone numbers?
- Is this parking lot in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act?
- Is this parking lot leased by or to another entity? Who?
- Where is the lease?
- What does the lease provide as parties responsible for the inspection, repair, and maintenance of the parking lot?
- Are there any signs on the parking lot explaining who is responsible for its upkeep?
- Are there any signs on the parking lot that warn you of a dangerous condition on the property?
- Were any signs in place on the parking lot at the time of your accident that warned of a danger (like a “wet surface” sign)?
- Was there an accident report made after your fall?
- Who wrote it? What is their name and address?
- What other accident reports have been made regarding this parking lot in the past five years?
- Who wrote them? What is their name(s) and address(es)?
How Can Design Impact A Parking Lot Slip And Fall?
There are many ways a parking lot’s poor design can contribute to a slip and fall or trip and fall, including:
- Speed bumps can cause shopping carts to overturn, as well as create a tripping hazard for pedestrians if it is not painted an attention-grabbing color such as bright yellow or orange.
- Painted end islands may encourage people to park illegally, which may obstruct the view of pedestrians and drivers.
- Lack of pedestrian signing and crosswalks may cause pedestrians to jay walk in areas where there may be puddles, pot holes, and other tripping hazards.
- Raised/curbed end islands are one of the most common tripping hazards here in South Florida. Parking lot owners may prevent this by painting the curb a bright color to direct the attention of the pedestrian.
- Wheelchair accessible ramps which create a raised edge on the sides can create a tripping hazard to pedestrians. This may be prevented by building ramps with slopes on all sides. Additionally, if a slip-resistant paint wasn’t used, then slip and falls are more likely to occur (especially on rainy days.)
- Wheelstops/parking blocks may create a tripping hazard if they are not painted a bright color, or are too high to step over. Wheel stops must be a maximum 6 feet wide, and must be covered completely by the car when the parking spot is in use. This is to eliminate hard to see conditions which may cause tripping hazards and result in serious injuries to pedestrians.
In addition, it is the parking lot owner’s duty of care to provide adequate lighting in the parking lots. Inadequate lighting can cause pedestrians to miss a pothole on the floor, puddle, crack on the sidewalk, raised curb, etc.
Can An Accident Victim Prevail With A Claim Even When The Dangerous Condition Is Obvious?
A parking lot owner will likely challenge a victim’s claim based upon arguments like the one successfully made by a Tires Plus store in Dampier v. Morgan Tire & Auto, LLC, where a business invitee fell over a tree stump as he walked across a planting bed next to the store’s parking lot. In that slip and fall lawsuit, the injured person failed to prove his case because the court held that “… some conditions are so obvious and not inherently dangerous that they can be said, as a matter of law, not to constitute a dangerous condition, and will not give rise to liability due to the failure to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.”
However, a parking lot victim can still succeed when there is an obvious danger. Consider the case of Cook v. Bay Area Renaissance Festival Of Largo, Inc., where Cynthia Cook went to a local festival and was directed by festival volunteers to park in an overflow parking lot, where an unpaved walkway connected the festival grounds and the lot. On her way back to her car, Mrs. Cook tripped and fell due to an exposed pipe on the unpaved walkway, cutting her foot.
The pipe was in plain view and Cook had been told to watch out for the pipe by her husband. She sued and the court ruled in her favor, explaining that even if the pipe was easily seen by the accident victim, the defendant could still be liable for failing “to exercise reasonable care to prevent a foreseeable injury” of an invitee because the owner should have known that harm could result from the open and obvious danger.
What Should You Do?
Most parking lots are open areas with high visibility with a lot of lighting and they are well maintained. As a result, when someone is hurt in a fall in a Florida parking lot, they can expect a vigorous defense by the owner of the parking lot claiming that the injured party is to blame for the accident.
Premises liability lawyers can be helpful here with gathering sufficient admissible evidence and knowing which experts to hire (i.e. lighting and traffic pattern experts), and knowing what type of economic and non-economic damages to seek. Additionally, an experienced personal injury attorney knows how most insurance companies respond to these injury claims which can be the difference between winning and losing a case because slip and fall cases are not the easiest cases to win.
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed in a parking lot slip and fall, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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