Retail parking lot safety

What do cracks, snow and grocery carts have in common? They’re all common ingredients in parking lot losses, and therefore important factors in parking lot safety.

Parking lot safety

Herb Rosenberg, Business Insurance Account Executive

What do cracks, snow and grocery carts have in common? They're all common ingredients in parking lot losses, and therefore important factors in parking lot safety.  How often do you think about parking lots? If you're a store owner, an insurance agent, or an underwriter, you may think about parking lots and parking lot safety more often than most.  

In my experience, parking lot conditions are sometimes thought of last - or not at all - when a business owner looks at possible retail locations.

Yet where your customers will park may be a big source of problems for your customers and your store if not considered carefully. 

I encourage the store owners I meet to start by stepping outside the store. Look around your parking area, and ask yourself questions, such as: Is it a beautiful, smooth patch of concrete or black top? Or, are there cracks, bumps or holes? Would you be okay with your 80-year-old mother or your 2-year-old grandson walking across it? What about at night, or in snow?

Even a hole as small as one-inch wide can cause someone to stumble, trip or fall.

Here's a cautionary tale … I once worked with a customer who had a large parking lot. It had a very small hole (I couldn't even fit my hand in it) for a drain that happened to be missing its cover.  This is an insurance article, so you know what comes next … a loss.  A woman was making her way back to her car with her cart, when she accidentally stumbled on that tiny hole, breaking her femur in not one, but two places. The loss ended up costing almost $1 million.

Walk around your parking lot and look through the eyes of your customers, especially those who may have difficulty walking. Hazards like holes (of any size), uneven pavement, cracks and bumps can cause big problems. 

Lights are another critical consideration for parking lots. Do you check regularly to ensure the lights are all in working order?  Parking lots that do not have a ton of lighting or are dimly lit may be more open to things like trips and falls, criminal activity, and drivers hitting other vehicles, or worse, pedestrians.

As the business owner, you may have full or partial responsibility for incidents in your parking lot.
 Be sure to keep an eye on those lights so your parking area can stay well lit.  Surveillance cameras may also be incredibly helpful in protecting your business, your employees, your customers and yourself.

If you live in an area that has snow and ice, you may be all too familiar with how dangerous these conditions can be for driving and walking through parking lots. How you handle the snow removal is important. Do you clear the area yourself or hire a snow removal company? Or, do you hope it gets sunny and the snow melts?  I'm hoping you answered one of the first two options, but even so, there are risks to consider.

Clearing the snow and/or ice yourself may put you directly in the line of responsibility, should someone slip or fall on your property.  If you are using a snow removal company, make sure you have a contract in place. Check your contract to see who is accountable in the event someone is injured on your property, and seek legal advice if you are unsure.  Snow and ice removal responsibility can vary greatly by state, so be sure to speak with an insurance agent or attorney to find out the legal requirements where your place of business operates.

Grocery stores and other stores that have carts present an additional parking lot exposure. Doesn't it always seem like those carts have a mind of their own - or at least one rogue wheel trying to go in the wrong direction? 

Think about the path your shoppers will take with their carts in the parking lot. How can you make the experience easier for your customers and safer for the people and cars around them?


Cart corrals can minimize some risk of damage, but the other factors we've mentioned also play a role where carts are concerned.

Parking lots are also a common place for criminal activity. "If parking lots aren't the scene of the crime, they are the entry point and staging area for a lot of crime that takes place in stores and shopping centers," according to an  article published by the National Retail Federation that offers data and tips for store owners.

Making sure you're following proper parking lot procedures and providing the safest possible environment may be just as important as the measures you take to keep people safe inside your store. Read " 6 parking lot perils property owners need to pay attention to", from PropertyCasualty360.com for more information and tips.

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