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The danger lurking around every corner

I’ve interviewed many parking-company owners over the years. When I ask them what single type of claim concerns them most, most of them reply that it’s damage to or theft of vehicles in their care, on their premises.

They’re especially concerned about high-value cars. Even less-expensive cars cost much more to repair than in the past. And disgruntled claimants may insist that their “babies” suffer diminished value after the repairs have been done.

But here’s what rarely occurs to most of these parking operators: Their biggest risk is right down the street or around the corner. Many of the serious claims parking operators experience involve multi-car collisions on public roads—away from the parking operator’s premises. Yet this danger never seems to be at the top of their list.

THE LESSON? When training your employees or developing risk-control measures, always give extra thought to the danger lurking around every corner. Yes, you should worry about damage to your patrons’ cars and take care when handling them. And, yes, you should emphasize repeatedly that patrons are at risk any time vehicles are being moved.

But for every time you worry about your drivers moving cars on premises, worry twice when your drivers take those cars off premises and onto public roads.

So did you hear the one about the five bodybuilders?

Five musclebound bodybuilders pile out of a supersize SUV. Actually, the story starts sooner than that. And this is a cautionary tale, because size doesn’t matter when it comes to lawsuits.

A valet driver pulled a customer’s small sedan out of a restaurant parking lot, intending to take the car down the street to a remote parking lot. He never made it there.

As he entered the public road, he hit a large SUV that had the right-of-way. Out piled five angry men who had just left the nearby gym after a weight-lifting session.

After harassing the valet driver for a bit, the bodybuilders took insurance information from him and then jumped back into the SUV and drove away. The frightened valet later stated that they were clearly not injured in any way. Their SUV had no visible damage either, even though the much smaller car the valet was driving did sustain some minor damage. He probably thanked his lucky stars that this one turned out okay.

But it didn’t. Four months later all five of the bodybuilders filed lawsuits against the parking company for bodily injury “sustained during the collision.” By that time, the driver no longer worked for the parking company.

THE LESSON? If any incident—regardless of how minor it appears—involves human bodies (people in the other vehicle, bicyclist, pedestrian, or whatever), that claim has the potential to blow up into a lawsuit. Train your employees to file a detailed report immediately after any accident.

  • They can use cell phones or portable cameras for taking pictures to document the scene.
  • They should write down every detail they remember about the incident, even if it seems minor and it’s obvious that no one was hurt. It’s much easier to review paperwork that was filed the day of the incident than to try to reconstruct what happened months or even years later—when that employee might be long gone.

And never forget that all potential bodily injury incidents should be reported to your insurance agent and the insurance carrier, even if it’s just an incident report and you feel nothing will come of it.