Car Accidents on Private Property: A Complex Situation
When you’re involved in a car accident, there’s a lot on your mind. The most obvious and most important thing is the health of everyone in your vehicle. If you’re fortunate enough to come through the collision uninjured, you’ll next be thinking about your vehicle. How severe is the damage? Will you be able to drive the vehicle, or is the damage so extensive that it will have to be towed? How will you get to work, get the kids to school, and otherwise take care of your family until repairs are made?
Next you’ll wonder who’s going to pay for all of this. If another driver is responsible for the damage to your vehicle and the possible injuries to your family, will that person’s insurance cover the costs? How much could it cost you out of pocket? Will you be paid for things like lost wages, medical bills, and a rental car?
Finally, there’s one special circumstance that might be in play and could require you to take some special steps, and that is when your accident has taken place on private property. It’s important to understand Texas car accident law so that you know how to handle this unique situation.
Most car accidents take place on public roads such as interstates, highways, and city streets. Occasionally, though, vehicles will collide on private property such as parking lots at schools or stores, private driveways, and private roads such as those leading to an airport or business. Insurance is required to pay even if you are four-wheeling in the wilderness and collide with someone else in your party.
The Basics of Liability
While the exact details of liability law are best left for an attorney to explain to you, there are four major parts of a liability case. All four conditions must be met for you to be successful in pursuing a claim. Keep all these points in mind if you have to deal with a car accident on private property.
Duty to Act
This means that the part at fault must have had some obligation to take certain action. In the case of a car accident, that duty might be to stop at a red light. If there is no evidence that the person had an legal duty to act, the case will not go any further.
Breach of Duty
The next thing that must be proven is that the other driver breached that duty. In other words, the driver was required by law to do something but didn’t do it. In our example, that would mean the driver ran the red light. The law says that we have a duty to stop at a red light, and if we don’t do so, we have breached our duty to follow traffic law.
You’ve probably heard the expression “No harm, no foul.” Liability is the same way. If there was no damage or injury from that other driver’s breach of duty, he or she is not liable for anything. Let’s say someone runs a red light and nearly hits you. You may get a scare, but you weren’t injured. As a result, you would have no liability case against that driver. If a collision does take place, there is one more step.
This simply means that the injury you experience must be linked to the other driver’s breach of duty. If you are involved in a car accident while driving home from a checkup on the ankle you broke a week ago, the other driver is not responsible for that injury. It sounds simple enough, but it can get complicated. For example, what if the collision didn’t injure you, but it happened during a rare Texas snowstorm and you slipped and fell getting out of your car? Things like this are why it’s critical to talk to a lawyer.
What Does Texas Car Accident Law Say About Insurance Coverage?
The most important thing for you to know to protect yourself is that the other driver’s insurance is required to pay your claim on private property just as it is on a public road. If the other driver says that their insurance won’t pay, that’s not true. This may be an attempt on their part to create an opportunity to flee the scene.
No matter where the accident takes place, the other driver’s insurance is responsible for property damage and injuries that you incur. That means it’s critically important for you to handle an accident on private property the same way you would on public roads.
It’s very clear that you have the same rights on private property that you do on public property, but the circumstances could be very different if you’re involved in an accident. Understanding what may happen on private property is essential to protecting your rights and ensuring that you get the compensation you deserve from the other driver’s insurance.
Things That Are Different About an Accident on Private Property
A number of circumstances may be different if your accident takes place on private property. First, it may be more difficult to establish fault. Parking lots and private roads will probably not have the appropriate signs, striping, and other marking to indicate who has right of way. Determination of fault may fall to a police officer’s judgment, which increases the chances that the incident will land in civil litigation and require the assistance of an attorney.
Speaking of the police, there’s a chance that law enforcement may not respond, especially if no one was injured. That means you’ll have no objective, trained third party to make a determination of who was at fault. In this situation, the entire case will rest on the quality of the evidence that you provide and the skill of your legal team.
Finally, you may not have much time to do what is necessary at the scene. If the police do not respond, the property owner will not be obligated to allow you to continue to take photographs or gather information. You may need to clear the area to allow things to return to normal. Imagine having an accident in a school parking lot at 2:30pm. If no one is hurt, there is no way administrators can allow the area to remain congested as buses and parents start to arrive. In other words, you need to get your work done quickly and be prepared to leave the scene if you are asked to do so.
What You Should Do Immediately After the Accident
Of course, the first thing you should do immediately after an accident is call 911. Determine how many people may be injured so that adequate resources can be sent to you.
If no one is hurt, now is the time to start gathering evidence. Take photos of the location of each vehicle. Shoot from several different angles so that it’s clear exactly where the cars were located. If there are skid marks, stand where they begin and let the photo show exactly where the vehicle ended up.
Be sure to get photos and even video of the other driver. If he or she is impaired by alcohol or drugs, your evidence may be all there is to support your side of the story. Remember, Texas car accident law is built for civil action. It means that a decision is made in court based on a “more than likely” standard–that is, if a judge or jury feels it is more than likely that one party was at fault, he or she is found liable and is therefore responsible for the costs. This is different from criminal law, which states that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, your evidence could be enough to win your case without being enough to send the other driver to jail.
The Role of the Property Owner
Public roads are carefully designed for maximum safety. Accidents are rarely a result of design issues. Instead, they are caused by driver error, mechanical problems, or inclement weather.
However, things are different on private property. If an area is open to vehicular traffic as a parking lot, private street, or other thoroughfare, the property owner is obligated to keep the area safe for vehicle traffic. Poor lighting, bad drainage, damaged road surfaces, and other conditions could be considered contributing factors to an accident. This would mean that the property owner may have legal liability just as the driver at fault.
That brings in an extra step for you when you’ve had an accident: identifying the property owner. This may not be as easy as it sounds. For example, if you are involved in an accident on an access road for a business, it may not be owned by the business itself. Instead, it could be owned by a local individual, a large out-of-town company, or even a group of heirs who may be very difficult to identify, locate, and contact.
What to Think About in the Days Ahead
It’s important to remember that although the accident itself is a very quick incident, your recovery process–even without injuries–will take weeks or even months. Your only hope of being fully reimbursed for the costs that you incur is to document and organize them so that you can build a complete case for what you are owed by the other driver’s insurance company.
You’ll start to ring up bills as soon as the cars come to a stop. There will be bills coming from the ambulance provider and emergency room. If someone is admitted to the hospital, you’ll receive bills for that as well. Make sure you notice that individual doctors often bill separately from the hospital itself. You may also have to pay a radiology company, outpatient care providers, physical therapists, and countless other specialists. You may be charged for home medical equipment such as a hospital bed or a wheelchair.
Make sure you are keeping all of these bills and making a note of how they are connected to the accident. Read them completely and make sure that the comments from the provider are clear in stating that the costs are a direct result of the accident. If not, the insurance company could claim that the injuries were a result of a fall or other accident not related to their policyholder.
Talk to your employer and those of the passengers in your car. Make sure you verify any and all missed time. Track your travel to all medical appointments, trips to pick up medication, and any other business pertaining to the accident. Texas car accident law provides for many of these costs to be paid back to you, but without proper documentation, it can’t happen.
Will You Need Legal Representation?
If anyone has injuries–even just minor ones–the answer to this question is an immediate yes. A qualified car accident attorney who knows Texas car accident law will make sure that all your costs are covered, both in the short term and down the road as you encounter costs like therapy, lost wages, travel to medical checkups, and so forth. Make the call to your attorney as soon as possible after the accident.
Even without injuries, it will be to your advantage to contact an attorney. You should at least discuss the situation with someone who understands how Texas car accident law may be in play in your situation. A simple fender bump or other minor damage has the potential to be handled without legal intervention, but it’s still better to get advice and make sure you don’t leave yourself vulnerable to being stuck paying for something that was someone else’s fault.
Once you’ve secured legal representation, provide your attorney with all the information you gathered at the scene. This will be in addition to whatever may come from a police report.