If you are extra vigilant when alone at night in a large parking lot or parking garage, you have good reason for your caution. Parking lots and garages are magnets for criminals. While the majority of crimes are property crimes, violent crimes such as murder, rape, and assaults, are far too numerous. The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice statistics analyzed violent crimes occurring between 2004 2008, and concluded that during the 4-year period, there were more than 400,000 violent assaults committed nationwide in parking lots and parking garages referred to collectively in the remainder of this article as parking facilities. While the ways to make large parking facilities safer are well known, implementation of safety measures lags far behind the public need for such measures, due primarily to inertia and expense. Although new parking facilities can be built with safety in mind, retrofitting old structures can be difficult.
Assaults in parking facilities are a major category of premise liability cases. When the owners (in some cases, the managers may also be liable; this article will discuss owners), fail to follow acceptable standards of care in parking facility safety, assaults are more likely to occur. The key question in a parking facility assault case, to which there is no pat answer, is what safety measures must the reasonable owner of the facility take. Inadequate lighting is a major cause of assaults in parking facilities. The lack of proper lighting emboldens a criminal in search of a victim, and at the same time, makes it more difficult for parking facility patrons to see a potential criminal in time to avoid him. Minimum lighting standards exist in the parking facilities industry. Any time a parking facility owner fails to employ adequate lighting, and a violent crime occurs, there is a good likelihood that the poor lighting contributed to the assault.
Other measures known to increase the danger of assault in parking facilities include areas behind which a predator may hide. Older facilities frequently have odd corners and alcoves, tailor-made hiding places for a criminal. It is incumbent upon the parking facility owner to make sure that there is sufficient lighting around these areas so as to make it difficult for a criminal to lurk unseen behind them. Bushes and shrubs in outdoor lots should be maintained at a height low enough that a criminal cannot hide behind them. Other security measures known to deter violent crime in parking facilities include monitored security cameras, emergency call boxes, regular patrols by security guards, security personnel available to escort patrons to their cars, upon request, continuous monitoring of all potential entrance points into the garage.
Fool-proof security measures are not possible, and even reasonable measures may be expensive. History and context are relevant to the degree of security a parking facilities owner must employ. For example, the owner of a large, old parking garage in a high crime part of the city, may need to employ more extensive safety measures than the owner of a similarly-sized facility in a low crime suburb. If a particular facility has experienced an unusually high number of violent crimes, that owner will likely be found negligent by a jury if the owner failed to adequately respond to the crime problem, and another assault occurs. The legal issue is foreseeability was it unreasonable for a parking facilities owner to appreciate that failure to take a particular security measure, might contribute to an assault. A parking facilities security expert is essential to an injured plaintiffs liability case. The expert must educate the jury on the dangers inherent in parking facilities, the known remedies, and why it is that the parking facilities owner in the specific case, failed to exercise reasonable care for the safety of his patrons.