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Is Your Car Safe in the Parking Lot? An Interesting Case in Property Damage

March 23, 2016

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A night out at the movies is a favorite activity for many. Have you ever considered what would happen if you came out of a movie only to find that your car had sustained serious damage while it was sitting in the parking lot? Your initial reaction might be to blame the movie theater. You might think that the theater had a responsibility to ensure the safety of your vehicle. New York Courts however have provided some insight about this issue and why the owner of a movie theater parking lot does not have a duty to protect your car.
In the recent case of <a href=""><em>Smith v. Regal Entertainment</em></a>, plaintiff sued the owner/operator of a movie theater and adjacent self-service parking lot for damages her car sustained while she was at a movie. She claimed defendant was negligent in failing to maintain an appropriate level of security in the parking lot. Defendant argued it was not liable because no bailment relationship was created between the parties.
A bailment is defined as “the delivery of personal property for a particular purpose under an express or implied contract with the understanding that it shall be redelivered to the person delivering it, or kept until he reclaims it after fulfillment of the purposes for which it was delivered.” The Court explained that when the bailor (the transferor) does not relinquish possession, control and dominion of the property to the bailee, no bailment exists. Further, the Court reasoned that since the plaintiff “did not relinquish possession or control of her vehicle at any time, as she could enter and exit the lot without supervision, select her own parking space, lock her own car, and retain the keys, no bailor-bailee relationship was created.” Even though plaintiff payed for her ticket to the movies and the defendant benefitted by her business, this transaction did not constitute sufficient consideration to find that a bailment relationship existed since “the essence of consideration is relinquishment of dominion and control.” Therefore, the Court held that since no bailment relationship existed, the defendant was not liable for damages to the plaintiff’s car.
Property damage claims can sometimes come down to this issue of whether a bailment relationship has been established. This is especially so when the damage occurs while the property owner does not have possession of the property. However, defendants should note that if the property owner has not clearly relinquished control, possession, and dominion of the property to the defendant, there can be no bailment relationship. In these types of cases, where there is no bailment, defendants may seek to have the property damage claims dismissed.
Thanks to Jeremy Seeman for his contribution to this post.


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