Just the other day over our regular Friday morning coffee, a friend of mine told me that he and his wife returned from a vacation to find their vehicle had been relieved of its catalytic convertor. The extraction surgery was not without complications, and the car was inoperable when they returned.

The car was parked in a busy multi-story park and shuttle garage just a couple of blocks from LAX, and the company which operates the lot has a presence at most major airports nationwide. The parking company response was disturbing – they said that because the car was self rather than valet parked, they weren’t responsible for the rather significant damage to the vehicle. No doubt the parking contract disavows responsibility for damage to vehicles and there are signs to that effect at strategic locations. This, however, is an entirely different scenario than returning to find that someone scraped your rear bumper.

Is the parking garage liable?

The answer, despite the contract and the posted warnings, is yes, if it can be proven that the company was negligent in that it knew or should have known that the area was at a high risk of crime, and they failed to provide security commensurate with that risk.

So, what is the risk of parking at various airports in the US?  We mapped CrimeRisk at the census block level for three airports – Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and Charlotte, showing the locations of parking structures and rental car locations at each.

LAX, not surprisingly, has very high levels of motor vehicle theft at and near the airport:

DFW, located half-way between the downtown cores of Dallas and Fort Worth, appears to be much safer by comparison:

Charlotte Douglas International appears to be safer still, especially compared to areas to the east of the airport.

Returning to our catalytic convertor problem, the question is: should the operator have known that the LAX lot was in a high-risk area, and taken security measures which go above and beyond those required at safer locations?

In this case, security consists of gated entry and exits, and security cameras in and around the checkout counter, but do not include cameras on all levels which might have discouraged the thieves. Courts have increasingly said yes, and they could be exposed to expensive litigation.

The AGS CrimeRisk models can be effectively used by multi-locational companies to create tiered security requirement plans for their facilities and this very exercise may help to deter crime, which is both good for customers but also may effectively shield companies (in this case parking lot operators) from being held negligent when crimes do occur.