It was reported by the FBI that there were an estimated 699,594 motor vehicle thefts nationwide in just year 2013 alone. Although they are on the decline, they still occur as we can see from the statistics. Despite the reduction in these numbers, observers in the industry caution that thieves constantly work on devising new and sophisticated means of stealing automobiles using a variety of different methods! Consider you go out for a fancy dinner and come back to find that your car has been broken into or is completely gone from the parking garage you left it in? Would the parking garage then be responsible for your loss, and could you sue for it?
Parking Garage Liability, Bailment, and Lease
In many cases, it really all depends. To determine liability, courts will consider whether the situation was a bailment or a lease.
Bailment: This refers to the transfer of possession but not ownership of personal property for a limited time or specified purpose. In these types of cases, you can relinquish temporary control of your property to another person. This means, in the hands of another person, they become responsible at the time for said possession. In these transactions, the person is known as a bailor and has a duty to take reasonable steps to care for your property when you can’t. The reason why this is important to know is simple: In many cases as seen by the courts, if you have relinquished possession of your keys and cars to a valet or parking garage operator, then the transaction would be known as bailment. In these same cases, the parking garage will be seen as liable for theft or damage to your car.
Lease: If you happened to park the car yourself and keep your keys, then a lot of courts are going to consider this a lease situation. When you park the car yourself and keep the keys, you did not relinquish possession of your property. In the case of a lease, often times parking lot operators will not be held responsible for what happens to the car.
When it comes to the lot owner, they cannot leave the keys in the car and not guard the car at all, leave its windows open, or deliver the car to the wrong person. Reasonable care can be determined by the number of attendants on duty, the ability of attendants to observe people and cars in the garage, the competence of the attendants, and the foreseeability of harm that happened. If you find yourself in anything other than a bailment situation, then you will need to show negligence by the lot owner caused the damage or your loss in order to be successful in a lawsuit.
What if the contents in my car are stolen or destroyed?
People who the car is bailed to are responsible for the contents of a vehicle. This, of course, is to the extent that it is reasonable that the items inside would be there. Otherwise, lot owners are only responsible for ordinary equipment inside the car and the items that can be seen in plain view.