KIRO 7 Investigates

Jesse Jones investigates: Who’s responsible when your car is stolen from a parking lot or garage?

SEATTLE — When David Wojick left his car with Lakewood Ford, he didn’t expect it to end up in the hands of thieves who had broken into the dealership’s lot.

And that was just the beginning.

“Yeah, it turns out it was involved in a burglary,” says David, “and then it was set on fire.”

Ronnie Rowland dropped his Cadillac at ExtraCar, a valet parking lot near Seatac.

“Gave them my ticket. They couldn’t find my car,” Ronnie recalled.

Weeks later his car was discovered trashed –with items missing.

Laura Miles left her car at the same lot. Police say the staff gave her keys to someone who drove her car to California. Police found it near the Golden Gate Bridge, with the suspect still asleep inside.

Yet, it was Laura Miles’ insurance that paid to transport the car back and make repairs.

Ronnie is looking to have his insurance pay for his losses.

“I have not heard from their insurance,” he said. “I’m going through my insurance in order to get this resolved.”

So, who is responsible when your car is damaged or stolen from a parking lot or a garage? And who’s left paying the deductible?

Jesse spoke with Andrew Davis, a policy analyst for the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, who says that parking lots and garages aren’t required to have insurance policies that cover losses from their customers.

“And even when they do have these policies, there may be a number of exclusions that apply,” Davis noted.

ExtraCar’s contract is like many in the industry. It says the company is not responsible for the loss or damage of the vehicle due to fire theft or collision. The company won’t cover damage through its own negligence, loss of use, or a replacement rental vehicle -- regardless of cause.

“Typically, what a business will have is coverage that will protect their own property, not necessarily your own,” says Davis.

Sometimes, things work out. In the case of David Woljick, whose car was used in a multi-county crime spree, the business says its insurance is covering his loss.

In a statement, ExtraCar says that “in each case, we have acted in a manner that is consistent with our legal obligations and is within the limits of our parking contract.”

“Your employee gave my keys to somebody. That’s negligence. It’s not theft,” said Laura Miles, who ultimately hired an attorney before she says ExtraCar made an effort to make her entirely whole.

Attorney Austin Hatcher says it’s possible to bring a negligence claim, but that process can be expensive.

“You’re looking at a considerable upfront expense, potentially $20,000 or so to file a lawsuit,” he estimated.