What Happens When a Car Accident Takes Place on Private Property?

Most car accidents happen on public roads, but not all do. Sometimes, a crash occurs on private property, including on private roads and driveways, in parking lots and garages, and anywhere else cars might travel. In those cases, injured car accident victims may find that their rights to compensation differ from the rights of someone who got hurt in a wreck on a public road. Here is an overview of the potential issues, and how an experienced lawyer can help sort them out.

Common Scenarios

Car accidents on private property happen in all sorts of ways.

Common scenarios include:

  • Collisions on private (often dirt or gravel) roads or driveways that are too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic safely.
  • Head-on and rear-end crashes in busy shopping center parking lots, or when rounding blind corners in parking garages.
  • Accidents in makeshift or temporary parking areas, such as on fields or in front yards.
  • Crashes on streets that appear public, but are maintained by homeowners’ associations or other private entities.

This is just a sampling of the ways that accidents might happen on private property, of course. No matter how a crash occurs on private property, victims may suffer serious injuries that leave them in significant physical, emotional, and financial pain.

What Makes Private Property Car Accidents Different?

In many ways, a car accident on private property resembles a car accident on any public road. Vehicles get damaged, drivers and passengers get hurt, and everyone involved faces unexpected expenses and difficulties.

In other ways, however, a car accident on private property differs significantly from a crash on a public highway or byway. Here are some of the key potential differences.

Property Owner Liability

Generally speaking, property owners owe a duty of care to anyone who visits their properties. That duty broadly requires property owners to take sensible steps to keep visitors safe from harm or, at a bare minimum, not to put visitors in danger unreasonably. The duty extends not just to visitors who walk onto private property, but also to people who drive or ride onto someone’s private premises.

If a preventable, dangerous condition on a property results in or contributes to a car accident, the property owner can potentially have a legal liability to crash victims. The scope and nature of that liability might differ dramatically from the potential liability that a public entity might face in the event of a crash on a public road.

For example, whereas a local government will generally not have legal liability for an accident caused by a speeding driver, even if the police know a particular stretch of public road sees a lot of speeding, a private property owner might owe damages to victims of a speeding crash on a private road, if the property owner knew about the speeding and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

Similarly, whereas local government entities frequently benefit from laws that cap their liability and impose tight deadlines on filing claims against them, private property owners do not have the benefit of those kinds of laws. That means that victims of private property car accidents may have more options and greater flexibility in seeking compensation for their injuries and losses than if they had gotten hurt in a crash on a public road.

Different Rules of the “Road”

Car accidents on private property can also differ from crashes on public roads in the rules that apply to property owners’ and drivers’ decisions and behaviors.

Consider parking lots and garages, for example. Have you ever noticed how tight their corners are, and how little room they leave drivers to maneuver? That is because public road engineering standards do not necessarily apply to parking lots, driveways, and other areas vehicles might travel on private land. Private property owners may face liability for their decisions, but they also often enjoy more flexibility in designing and building reasonably safe facilities for vehicle traffic.

Likewise, to some extent, private property owners can dictate the rules of the road to their visitors. They can post and enforce a 15 mph speed limit, for example, even if the limit would be 35 miles per hour on a comparable public way. They can require permits, special licenses, or liability waivers to drive on their roads or to park on their fields. Compliance with private rules of the “road” can determine who might owe compensation for injuries in a car accident on private property.

How a Skilled Car Accident Attorney Can Help

The pain, suffering, and expense of a car accident tend not to vary much between accidents on public roads and private land. In the aftermath of a crash, victims and their families need sound, experienced legal advice to help them make decisions and to protect their rights to compensation.

A skilled car accident attorney can help victims secure payment for their injuries and losses, no matter who might face liability for them. Every case differs, of course, but an attorney can:

  • Investigate the circumstances of an accident on private land, including any special rules of conduct that might have applied and any steps the property owner should have taken to keep drivers and passengers safe.
  • Evaluate the availability of insurance coverage that may pay for victims’ damages.
  • Explain victims’ options and answer their questions about who may owe them compensation.
  • Prepare and file lawsuits and insurance claims seeking payment for victims’ injuries and losses.
  • Negotiate settlements when possible to resolve victims’ claims.
  • Go to trial to prove a car accident claim to a judge and jury.
  • Collect any monies due to victims through a settlement, judgment, or jury award.

Attorneys cannot guarantee the financial outcome of any car accident claim, no matter where the crash happened. They can, however, give victims a stronger chance of securing fair compensation against a private property owner or other parties at fault for a car accident.

If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a car accident on private property, contact an experienced attorney today to learn about your rights and options.

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