Sleep Inn Beaver - Beckley
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

Should Lodging Companies Be Liable For Damage to Vehicles in Their Parking Lots?

The answer depends on a number of factors.

You park your motor vehicle in a parking spot on the property of a hotel, motel, or resort. At some point, it is damaged due to vandalism, robbery, or weather. Should lodging companies be liable for damage to vehicles in their parking lots?

Should Lodging Companies Be Liable For Damage to Vehicles in Their Parking Lots?

Parking lot
Photograph ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

You have probably seen the signs that are posted in the parking lots of hotel, motel, and resort properties how they are not responsible for any damage or theft with regard to any vehicles that are parked on their properties. Does that automatically absolve them of any liability if something happens?

Are hotels or resorts any more liable for damage or theft if they charge a fee for guests or visitors to park on their properties — such as this ridiculous parking recapture fee — especially as vehicle parking seems to be becoming a new revenue stream for lodging companies when mandatory resort fees do not seem to be enough in terms of generating revenue?

FlyerTalk member Xeno found shards of glass from a broken window upon returning to his vehicle which was parked on site at a hotel property that charged $15.00 per night for parking. Although the parking fee which Xeno paid was eventually removed from the final bill, do signs that claim that hotels are not responsible for any damage to vehicles that are parked on their properties absolve them of any liability even though they charge a nightly rate for parking?

TownePlace Suites Chattanooga Near Hamilton Place
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

The answer to both questions is generally no — even if a fee is charged for parking at a hotel property. The fee that is charged to park a vehicle is for parking the vehicle and not necessarily securing that the vehicle will be protected from being damaged or having its contents stolen.

If, however, negligence can be proven — if members of the management staff at a hotel, motel, or resort property knew prior to the incident without any doubt that lights were not working at night or a security gate could not close — then they potentially could be held at least partially liable for the incident. If the person who is a member of the valet parking staff damages the vehicle while in his or her care, the lodging company — or the independent company who hired that person if contracted by the lodging company — is likely liable for damages…

…but what if the valet gives the keys of your vehicle to the wrong person who drives off with it, as has happened at a hotel property in Houston back in 2016? Who is liable for the theft?

When parking is offered by a hotel, motel, or resort property — regardless if the parking is free or paid, valet or self park, in a garage or an open lot, or on site or off site — a level of responsibility remains on the part of the lodging company for the safety, security, and return of the vehicle to its rightful owner in a reasonable amount of time. The extent of exposure to liability can only be determined after a thorough analysis of the parking arrangements of a particular hotel, motel, or resort property is conducted; and the applicable law in that jurisdiction also plays a role in determining liability.

As for whether the parking lot of a lodging company is safe enough at which to park a motor vehicle, that is a decision of which you must determine for yourself — especially when no guarantees are offered.

Final Boarding Call

SpringHill Suites Chattanooga North/Ooltewah
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Although the incident was not at a lodging company, my personal vehicle was recently damaged by another vehicle while it was parked on the premises of a business establishment. The driver fled the scene. I am currently in the process of trying to get the company to release the video surveillance footage of both inside and outside of the building from that day and time in an attempt to find the culprit and hold him liable for the damage to my vehicle. This issue has not yet been resolved as of the time this article was written.

The easiest remedy to a vehicle which was damaged or had contents stolen out of it is to report it to the insurance company, which may do the work of determining liability of the incident for you — and you may pay as little as no money at all to have the damage repaired or the stolen contents replaced, depending on the extent of coverage that is included in the insurance policy.

Regardless, do you believe that lodging companies should be held liable for damage to vehicles in their parking lots — especially if they charge a fee for the privilege of parking in them?

All photographs ©2019, ©2020, and ©2023 by Brian Cohen.

  1. As an insurance risk consultant, they are liable if they are negligent. So imagine you park your car at a hotel, store, etc. where they own the parking lot (many hotels do not). Then a thief comes and breaks into your car. Why would the hotel be responsible for what a thief does? Now if they fail to provide the appropriate level of security for that location, lack of lighting, etc. then you could say they contributed to the event. Now imagine if a hail storm rolls through. Is the hotel responsible? No. It’s an “act of God” event of course. So it really depends on what the situation is.
    Most hold-harmless agreements or even signs don’t usually hold up in court unless you entered the agreement as an adult and voluntarily. You could argue that you parked your car there as a voluntary act or did you have no other choice. In any event you need to be your own risk manager. What level of risk are you willing to assume. For example, my wife and I recently had an early morning flight out of STL for a trip to Tokyo. We live 2 hours from the airport so we drove in the evening before. We had a choice of a few hotels on points including a Drury Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and the Marriott to name a few. The reviews on the Holiday Inn had a ton of comments about their cars getting stolen and broken into along with statements about the lack of security. This airport is near high-crime areas. We elected to stay at the Marriott and leave our car in the nearby Parking Spot lot. It is more secure than the Marriott lot and has better lighting. I figured it would at least keep my car from being stolen. If it had been stolen I would have turned in the claim to them and my auto insurance company where they could subrogate the claim against the lot and their garage keepers/garage liability policy.
    So in general, a parking lot provider has a responsibility to provide some care of your belongings but it is a reasonable level of liability that is viewed through the eyes of a judge or court system. If they fail to even try to provide a safe place then they can be held liable or extra-liable depending on the events.

    I might add that hotel parking lots are targets of thieves and this is especially true at airport hotels. They know you can’t watch your car or that it will be parked for a long time. Organized crime will even roll through and electronically pop the trunks of cars in hotel lots to steal your stuff. In my personal opinion, as a risk consultant, the more a hotel tries to control the lot through gates, fees, guards, fencing, etc. the more liable they become in some ways. They put on a show of how they control or provide a secure lot for a fee so it can be seen as a failure on their part.

  2. When I was in law school (50 years ago!) I remember a legal research class assignment about liability when parking in a lot with an attendant who takes and parks your car. There is (was?) always a sign saying, in essence, “pound sand, we’re not responsible”. Turns out that there is (was?) a NY law saying such signs were void. If they took control, they also took responsibility.

    Also, next time you give your car to a hotel valet take a careful look at the ticket. It is likely to say “XYZ Parking Corp” rather than Marriott/Hilton/etc. There will be an arrangement between the hotel and the parking corp to handle the billing, but if you have a damaged car your contract and recourse is not with the hotel, it’s with the parking company.

    1. I am not aware of any hotel or resort property which handles valet parking on their own these days, Steve K.

      Thank you for imparting that information.

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