Does car insurance cover accidents on private property?

Your car insurance will typically cover accidents on private property. There are, however, a couple of nuances related to accidents on private property that you should be aware of. These include differences in police jurisdiction and property owner liability, both of which we discuss in detail below.

Difference Between Car Accidents on Private vs Public Property

From a liability perspective, car accidents on private property function very similar to car accidents on public roads. This includes your car insurance coverage, which typically covers accidents on private property in the same way it would on public roads. Despite these similarities, however, there are two key differences between an accident on private and public roads:

  1. Police Jurisdiction: police do not have jurisdiction over accidents on private property unless they are investigating a crime (such as a DUI). While this may mean that you won’t receive a traffic ticket, it also makes it more difficult to properly document the accident for insurance purposes.
  2. Property Owner Liability: generally, in accidents on public roads the government has no liability – even if the road is in disrepair. However, this is not the case on private property. In addition to the driver(s), property owners may also be liable depending on the circumstances of the accident.

When is the property owner liable?

The property owner may be liable when an accident is caused by the property’s design or the property itself. In most states, the property owner is required to take adequate steps to ensure the property is sufficiently safe for visitors. Below are two examples of the most common types of property owner liability related to car accidents:

  1. Accidents related to property design: if the design of the property or its condition contributed to the accident, then the property owner may be liable. For example, if you were involved in a collision in a parking garage that lacked mirrors or had blind corners.
  2. Accidents due to the property: not all accidents are due to a collision. For example, if a light or part of the ceiling of the parking garage falls and damages your car, the property owner may be liable.

Oftentimes, the property owner may have evidence that can be valuable to you during the claims process (such as security camera footage). You should always ask for this evidence, however, don’t be surprised if the property owner is unwilling to assist you. Often property owners will take a defensive and difficult posture to avoid potentially shifting liability onto themselves.

What should you do after accidents on private property?

After ensuring that you and your passengers are not injured, document everything! Take pictures of the accident, the damage to your car, and the surrounding area. If your accident involved another car, be sure to also exchange information with the other driver and the property owner. Also, if there are witnesses in the area be sure to get their contact information in case their testimony is needed in the insurance claims process.

Unlike an accident on public roads, you don’t necessarily need to call the police and report an accident on private property. However, you still should consider calling 911 or a non-emergency number. As we’ve mentioned, while the police do not have jurisdiction on private property, their documentation can be helpful. The police will likely balk at doing paperwork for an accident on private property, but you should still push them to file an incident report. The incident report can then be given to your insurance company to help expedite the claim property.

A police report is typically a very important document in the insurance claims process. Given the difficulties in getting proper law enforcement documentation on private property, however, it is imperative that you collect as much information on your own as possible.

What is considered private property?

Private property is defined as essentially any property that is not owned by the government. Below are many examples of what could constitute private property:

  • Gated neighborhood roads
  • Private parking lots
  • Parking garages
  • Home driveways

The most typical accidents on private property include fender benders in parking lots, collisions around blind corners of parking garages, and collisions on private roads that are too narrow for traffic.

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