Do I Have the Right of Way When Backing Out of a Parking Space in California?

man-with-hat-coat-beard-driving-reverseMany parking lot accidents happen when drivers are backing out of a parking space. When these collisions occur, drivers often argue about who is at fault.

The answer depends on who had the right of way in the moments before the accident. The trouble is parking lots are such hotbeds of activity it can be difficult to determine who had the right of way and who was required to yield.

Below, the experienced Sacramento car accident lawyers from the Arnold Law Firm discuss who is at fault for a backing-out accident in a parking lot in California, including who has the right of way.

Who Has the Right of Way in a Parking Lot in California?

Parking lots are made up of two types of roads:

  • Thoroughfares – These are lanes that exit onto a roadway. They are the main lanes through a parking lot and are usually wider.
  • Feeder lanes usually start at one thoroughfare and end at another. Feeder lanes are the lanes between rows of parking spots and they are typically not as wide as thoroughfares.

What is the Parking Lot Accident Law in California?

The general rule on parking lot right of way is drivers in parking spaces must yield to drivers in feeder lanes. Just like exiting a driveway onto a roadway, vehicles that are already in motion and in the flow of traffic have the right of way.

This means drivers who are backing out of a parking space or driveway must look for oncoming traffic and only pull out of the spot when they have enough time to do so safely.

How Does Right of Way Work Elsewhere in a Parking Lot?

Here are some of the other rules about who has the right of way in a parking lot:

  • Vehicles in thoroughfares typically have the right of way over vehicles leaving feeder lanes.
  • Drivers turning left or right from a thoroughfare into a feeder lane or other roadway must yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction as well as cyclists and pedestrians. You are required to yield to all pedestrians in designated crosswalks.
  • Any stop or yield signs located in the parking lot override the presumed right of way. Traffic signs in a parking lot must be obeyed.
  • If you are at an uncontrolled intersection in a parking lot, you must yield to the first vehicle to arrive or stop at the intersection. Drivers should come to a complete stop and proceed in the order they arrived at the intersection. If you arrive at the same time as another car, the driver to the left must yield to the driver on the right.
  • When two drivers want to get the same parking space, drivers who are trying to cross traffic are required to yield.

Is the Person Backing Up Always at Fault?

Drivers who are backing out of a parking space or driveway must yield to others in the parking lot. If a driver backing up from a parking space hits another vehicle, pedestrian or cyclist, the driver is most likely going to be at fault for damages.

This is because the person or vehicle that got hit had the right of way. One of the first things the insurance company is going to consider after a reversing accident is who had the right of way.

However, there are some exceptions to this general rule. For example, if another driver disobeyed a posted traffic sign and caused a collision. If you looked and it seemed like you had plenty of time to back out, but you hit a car that came speeding down the feeder lane, the driver of that vehicle may be partially at fault.

Despite the fact you are required to yield to pedestrians, there may be times when pedestrians are at fault. This might be the case if a pedestrian was particularly negligent, such as if he or she ran behind your car without warning.

Who is at Fault for Accidents When Two Drivers are Backing Out?

If two drivers are backing out of two parking spaces and they crash into each other, they probably share fault for the collision. One driver may bear more fault than the other because one of the drivers may have been farther out of the spot than the other. In this situation, the driver who was not as far out of the parking space should likely have been the one to yield.

Fortunately, accidents involving two drivers backing out of parking spaces are rare. They are also less likely to cause serious injuries than other types of parking lot crashes. This is because there is not enough space in that situation to allow a vehicle to speed up and generate more force at impact.

However, these types of accidents often result in drivers making contradictory statements about what happened. This can make the case challenging, which is why victims need an experienced attorney.

Where Do Backing-Up Accidents Often Occur?

Back-up accidents most commonly occur in parking lots and residential areas. For example, drivers may need to back out of their driveway onto a residential street. Drivers need to look behind them and make sure they have enough space and time to back out safely. Drivers also need to be alert for pedestrians and bicyclists, particularly small children who may be walking or riding their bikes.

Backing-up accidents could also occur in intersections. If a driver stops at an intersection because the light turned red while approaching the intersection, he or she may need to back up to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. Drivers need to be cautious while doing this because they could back up into the car behind them.

Sometimes these accidents happen when a rear driver continues to pull forward without realizing the lead driver is backing up.

California Laws on Fault For a Car Crash

Most car accident claims in California involve one driver who is 100 percent at fault. Under California law, drivers who are at fault for a collision are responsible for the victim’s damages. That is why our state requires drivers to purchase liability insurance. This insurance helps to pay for medical costs and other damages suffered by the victim.

There are cases, however, when two or more drivers may share fault for a crash. These situations are governed by California’s pure comparative negligence law. Under this law, your damages will be reduced based on your percentage of fault. For example, if you are 20 percent at fault for the collision, you can only recover 80 percent of the value of your damages.

Some states prohibit the recovery of compensation if you bear too much fault. In California, however, you could be 99 percent at fault and still recover compensation. This means if you were injured while backing out of a parking space and you bear the majority of fault for the crash, you can still recover compensation.

When you file a claim for a reversing accident, the insurance company is going to try to find any reason to assign you partial responsibility. If successful, then the insurance company would be able to pay out less compensation.

How Common Are Parking Lot Accidents?

Tens of thousands of car accidents happen in parking lots and parking garages each year, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). While thousands of people suffer injuries in these collisions, hundreds more are fatally injured.

These crashes happen throughout the year, but they are much more common during the holiday season, including on Black Friday.

One of the reasons parking lot car accidents are so common, including accidents that occur when drivers are backing out of parking spaces, is because drivers are distracted. The NSC conducted a public opinion poll that found 66 percent of drivers across the nation make phone calls in parking lots.

Another 63 percent of drivers program their GPS systems in parking lots, while 56 percent send text messages, 52 percent use social media, 50 percent send or receive emails and another 49 percent watch videos or take pictures.

Why do Parking Lot Accidents Happen?

Parking lots are hectic places with obstructed visibility. Backing-up accidents usually occur because one person failed to yield.

Some of the other causes of parking lot collisions include:

  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving (texting, making phone calls, using the radio, looking for parking instead of looking at the road, etc.)
  • Ignoring road signs
  • Failing to check blind spots
  • Trying to get through a tight space
  • Impaired driving, such as if the driver had just left a bar or restaurant after consuming alcohol
  • Backing out onto a street with a yield sign

Here are some of the common types of parking lot accidents that could be caused by driver negligence:

  • A driver fails to make sure the way is clear before backing out of a parking space.
  • Two vehicles collide as they both back up and pull out of their respective parking spaces at the same time.
  • A moving vehicle hits a parked vehicle, such as backing into a car while backing out of a parking space or clipping the bumper of a vehicle while maneuvering in or out of a parking space.
  • A vehicle strikes a pedestrian in a parking lot. A driver is speeding through the parking lot and fails to see another vehicle backing out of a spot.
  • A driver blows through a stop sign and into a crosswalk.
  • A driver turns sharply in front of oncoming traffic.
  • One car rear-ends another because the driver of the lead car suddenly stopped.
  • A driver pulls forward out of a parking spot into oncoming traffic.
  • A vehicle stopped at a stop sign gets hit from behind or gets backed into.

If an accident occurs because a driver’s view is obscured, it is important to determine what caused poor visibility. Was it because of an overgrown tree or poor parking lot design? If so, there is a chance that the property owner may be liable.

When Can a Property Owner be Liable for a Parking Lot Accident?

Property owners may be liable for hazardous conditions on their property that result in a collision. This includes the parking lot of a business.

Landlords are expected to:

  • Cut back landscaping
  • Fix potholes
  • Ensure markings on the travel lanes are visible
  • Maintain adequate lighting
  • Provide appropriate staff

It is important to note that parking lot accidents are usually a result of driver negligence, though. If the property owner is liable, they are probably only partially liable. Drivers usually bear the largest percentage of fault for a parking lot crash.

What Should I do After a Parking Lot Accident?

After a parking lot accident, you should take these important steps:

  • Call the police– California requires drivers to report crashes that cause injuries, death or significant property damage. The responding officer should conduct a preliminary investigation and complete a police report. The report should include his or her determination of who caused the crash. This can be used as evidence for your auto accident claim.
  • Get medical attention– Seeking medical attention as soon as possible can help link your injuries to the crash. This makes it so the insurance company will have a harder time saying you were not injured, or that your injuries were a result of something unrelated to the crash.
  • Take photos of the scene– If you can safely do so, take pictures of the damage to your vehicle and the vehicle that hit you, as well as anything worth noting about the crash like visibility, obstructions, lines on the road, etc.
  • Get contact information from potential witnesses– If there are people in the parking lot who witnessed the collision you should get their contact information so your attorney can speak to them about what they witnessed.
  • Avoid making statements to the insurance company – It is generally best to say little to nothing to the liable insurance company. Anything you say to the insurance company could be used against you as a reason to deny or underpay your claim.
  • Contact an experienced lawyer – You should also consider calling an experienced attorney who can help you through the process of filing a claim, which can be complicated. It is often your word against the word of the other driver, and sometimes at-fault drivers lie. That is why you need a lawyer who has been through the process many times and knows how to gather evidence to build a strong case.

How Can I Avoid Parking Lot Accidents?

To avoid parking lot accidents, be cautious and follow these best practices:

  • Drive slowly through parking lots. If a speed limit is posted, do not exceed it.
  • Use turn signals to show pedestrians and other motorists your intentions.
  • Watch for vehicles backing out of parking spaces, as their view may be obstructed.
  • Park in spots further away from your destination instead of circling the lot for a closer spot.
  • Park in the back of the parking lot for less congestion to make exiting easier.
  • Make sure your vehicle is fully within your parking spot and centered.
  • When backing up you should physically look for traffic and pedestrians. Do not rely only on your vehicle’s backup camera.
  • Back up or pull out of a parking space slowly while watching for oncoming traffic or pedestrians, as your view may be obstructed by other vehicles or structures.
  • Ask passengers for help looking for oncoming cars.
  • Never assume that no one is behind you. Pedestrians are often distracted.

You may want to back into a parking space to avoid having to check behind you when you eventually leave. However, you need to know how to back in a parking space without hitting another car, which can be challenging if this is not something you do often.

Call a Trusted Lawyer if You Were Injured in a Parking Lot Accident

If you were injured in a parking lot collision while you or another driver was backing out of a parking space, our attorneys are available to discuss possible legal options.

Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today. We charge no upfront fees, and you only pay us if we recover compensation for you.

Call the Arnold Law Firm at (916) 777-7777 or complete our Free Case Evaluation form.