How to Tell if a Parking Garage is Liable for a Stolen or Damaged Car

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  • Part 1 of 2: Valet parking and liability factors
  • Part 2 of 2: Self-parking and liability factors
While auto theft and vandalism represent just two examples of what can happen to your car when you’re parked in a parking garage, you need to know who foots the bill if something does happen. Determining the responsible party depends whether you gave your keys to an attendant when leaving your car in the lot.
There are two types of public and private car lots — valet and self-parking — and both play a part in determining who pays if something goes wrong with your vehicle while it’s at the location. Part 1 of the following article reveals how valet parking locations bear much of the responsibility for damage or theft of your car, while Part 2 discusses self-parking locations and whether or not the location bears any responsibility at all.

Part 1 of 2: Valet parking and liability factors

Valet parking occurs when you give your keys to an attendant and they park your car in a specified slot within the lot. After parking your car, an attendant then gives you a claim ticket, allowing you to reclaim your vehicle at a later time. Also known as a “bailment,” a valet parking situation is common in more urban areas or bigger cities.
In effect, you are turning over your property to the attendant, with the car lot or garage then taking on the responsibility of your car and property, including being responsible for theft or vandalism. Check with the statutes in your specific state if you are unsure about laws on the definition of a bailment in your area.
To determine if the situation in which you plan to leave your car qualifies as a bailment, certain factors must come into play. The most common indicators of a bailment situation include the following.
  • A lot or garage attendant parks your car for you.
  • The lot resides within an enclosed space, including fencing or walls.
  • You receive a claim ticket from the attendant upon leaving your car with them.
  • You transfer your property, via your car keys, into the hands of a lot attendant.
In addition, when leaving your car in a bailment situation, the lot attendants become responsible for any personal belongings located in your car. The stipulation to this is that the items within your car should have a reasonable reason for being there in the first place. So, the lot would pay for any ordinary equipment and items in plain view, but it would not pay for obscure items located out of view, such as a collection of some sort or other items not expected to be in the car.

Part 2 of 2: Self-parking and liability factors

The courts consider a self-parking situation differently compared to valet parking. Know as a lease in legal terms, when you park your vehicle yourself and then take your keys with you, you bear the brunt of responsibility in this situation if your car is damaged or stolen.
The only time when the lot owner bears some or all of the responsibility for damage or theft of your property is in cases of negligence. Examples of negligence include a breach of duty where something the car lot or garage owner did, or didn’t do, resulted in the damage or theft. Just remember, most states have a statute of limitations on how much time can pass between an incident happening and you filing a claim.
In addition, any comprehensive insurance coverage you carry with your car insurance policy should cover both theft and vandalism of your car. Likewise, your homeowners or renters insurance should cover any personal belongings stolen from your car in a leasing situation.
By taking necessary precautions, you can help ensure that your car is protected when you leave it parked at a public or private garage or parking lot. By knowing who bears the responsibility for damage and theft of your car when you do have to leave it can help you when filing an insurance claim.

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