Automobile & Pedestrian Liability Issues

Differences Between Public Roads and Private Parking Lots

The law related to collisions between automobiles and pedestrians on public roads is different than on private parking lots.  The standard of care and the rules of right-of-way are entirely different.

On public roads, a number of statutes apply to the interaction between motor vehicles and pedestrians:

  1. §300.370, RSMo. makes pedestrians subject to traffic control devices.


  1. §300.160, RSMo. requires that pedestrians obey pedestrian control signals such as Walk or Don't Walk signs, but gives pedestrians the right-of-way in a controlled cross-walk.


  1. §304.291, RSMo. sets out the exact rules which pedestrians must follow in crossings controlled by control signals, or other traffic control devices.


  1. §300.375, RSMo. establishes the circumstances in which pedestrians can still have the right-of-way in cross-walks that are marked, but which have no traffic control signals.


  1. §300.390, RSMo. sets out when pedestrians shall yield the right-of-way to motor vehicles.


  1. §300.410, RSMo. requires motor vehicle drivers to exercise the highest degree of care to avoid colliding with pedestrians.


In fact, §304.012, RSMo. sets the general standard for operation of a motor vehicle on roads as the highest degree of care.  While the exercise of this degree of care is statutorily established by §304.012, RSMo., it applies only to operation of a vehicle on a public road or highway and not on private parking lots.

Doolin v. Swain, 524 S.W.2d 877 (Mo. banc 1975) teaches that vehicle operation on a private parking lot, not on a public road, instead is based on common law rules (not statutorily imposed duties), and that ordinary care is the applicable standard.  Doolin further teaches that one common law rule upon which a cause of action may be based is that of “failure to keep a lookout."

In other words, the definition of negligence in cases involving ordinary care in parking lot cases is different than the definition of negligence involving the highest degree of care in cases on a public road.

Common law rules for lookout cases on private parking lots and drives were established at least as far back as 1938 in Powell v. Brosnahan, 232 Mo. App. 1161 (WD 1938).  Powell teaches that there is a general duty on the part of a driver, operating a vehicle on private property, to keep a lookout for business invitee pedestrians whose presence should have been anticipated.  Powell approves of jury instructions that are based on a standard of ordinary care to keep a lookout for other business invitees.

Of course, a lookout case is based on the concept that the operator of the vehicle could have actually seen a pedestrian (had a careful lookout been kept), and could have taken effective precautionary measures to avoid the accident -- causation in other words.  Berra v. Danter, 299 S.W.3d 690 (Mo. App. ED 2009) explains that while there must be evidence of causation, the time, distance, means, and ability to take effective precautionary actions are not expressed in the verdict directing instruction, but instead are submitted implicitly.

The duties of the owner of a private business parking lot are a completely different subject, and are addressed in a different article.

Keep in mind that motor vehicle/pedestrian collisions simply do not work the same way on roads or private parking lots.  You should have an experienced pedestrian accident lawyer for claimants or insurance attorney for defendants review the facts of any case and advise you on the rights and remedies available in the event you are in a motor vehicle/pedestrian collision.

By: Joseph W. Rigler

DID YOU KNOW ? is presented by Williams, Robinson, Rigler & Buschjost, PC as a public information service only.  None of the information contained herein is intended to be taken as legal advice.  Each matter depends on unique facts which attorneys must consider in forming an opinion, and may depend on laws unique to a particular jurisdiction.  No two cases are the same.  If you want to know more about this subject, contact Williams, Robinson, Rigler & Buschjost, PC, or the attorney of your choice, and seek a formal opinion about your particular case.


Williams, Robinson, Rigler & Buschjost, PC provides legal services in South-Central Missouri, serving Maries County (including Belle, Vienna & Vichy), Crawford County (including Cuba, Steelville, Bourbon), Dent County (including Salem, Lecoma, Bunker), Phelps County (including Rolla, St. James, Newburg, Doolittle, Edgar Springs), Texas County (including Licking, Houston, Raymondville, Summersville, Cabool), Pulaski County (Waynesville, St. Robert, Richland, Dixon, Crocker) and may provide legal service in other locations on request.

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