My car was damaged in a hotel car park - who is liable?

A reader says his car was scratched and had paint chipped off while it was left in a hotel car park. Who should pay for it to be fixed?...

Damaged Audi

I left my car in the care of the Clayton Hotel at Manchester Airport while I went away for a week’s holiday. When I got the car back it was plastered in mud and after I had it washed I found scratches all down the left side. There is also damage to the sills below the doors where there are dents and the paint has been chipped off revealing bare metal. 

Derby Audi inspected the car and estimated the cost of repairs at £2675. After extensive correspondence with the hotel and their contractor, Car Park People, they refused to accept any liability and have offered £250 as a goodwill payment. Shouldn’t the hotel or its parking company pay for the repairs? 

Paul Watson

What Car? says…

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get compensation for damage for cars parked in private car parks because the operators can have restrictive terms and conditions regarding liability. 

For example, the hotel’s parking service terms and conditions state that it doesn’t accept any liability for damage unless it’s reported to them before the car is taken away from the car park. In your case, with the car covered in mud when you collected it, it would have been difficult to see the damage. In addition, the T&Cs also state that they will not be liable for damage to vehicles unless they are caused by “proven negligence or wilful default” of the contractor. 

However, legally the hotel and car park operator are liable for accidental or wilful damage caused to your car while in their care. Both companies should have public liability insurance to cover the cost of repairing your car, providing that you can prove it was damaged while in their care. 

This is important because, if you believe the car park operator was negligent, you should contact your insurance company and ask them to investigate with a view to recovering the repair costs. 

However, if you do claim on your insurance, you’ll have to pay the excess and you could lose your no claims bonus, so you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons of this. 

If you are unable to get the hotel or car park operator to pay for repair work, we’d recommend that you take the case to the small claims court. It may also be worthwhile getting other quotes to repair the damage - this will demonstrate to the court that you’ve tried to keep the cost down by getting competitive quotes. 

Update: Shortly after Paul wrote to us and before our article was published, Car Park People got in touch with him at the request of the Clayton Hotel. He met the Director of Car Park People, who examined Paul's car and agreed to get the damage fixed. Paul says he is happy with the outcome and will use the parking service again.

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here