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The parking lot wars of Black Friday

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CarInsurance.com

Black Friday parking lotIt's Black Friday. Like 71 million other shoppers, you are at the local mall.

You spent hours waiting for the doors to open and another few hours loading your cart with bargains. You have crossed every name off your list and astonished yourself with the savings. It's time to head home.

As you back out of your parking spot, looking carefully behind you, your front fender creases the door of the car next to you.

Black Friday just got a lot more expensive.

Parking lot accidents are almost a holiday tradition. Maria Cashy, spokesperson for Progressive Insurance, says almost 25 percent of Black Friday accident claims occur in parking lots.

An accident waiting to happen

While "Black Friday" as a term has been around since the 1960s, the day after Thanksgiving passed the Saturday before Christmas as the year's busiest shopping day only in 2003.

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In the years since, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the number of shoppers who venture out to stores or online over the Thanksgiving weekend has soared from 140 million in 2006 to more than 220 million in 2011. This year, the NRF predicts 71 million shoppers will hit the stores on Friday alone.

"Hit" being the operative word. Progressive looked at Black Friday data and discovered that overall claims on the mother of all shopping days had doubled from 2010 to 2011 -- and parking lot claims had increased 36 percent.

According to Progressive, the most common claims on Black Friday were:

  • Rear-ended someone/got rear-ended: 12.57 percent
  • Struck a parked car/your parked car was struck: 11.13 percent
  • Backed into another car/was backed into: 7.68 percent

Accident stats are unlikely to get better this year; the NRF forecasts that holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion -- much of it driven by Tweets and other social media that can have shoppers changing direction in the blink of an eye.

How to handle a Black Friday accident

While most parking lot accidents happen at slow speeds and don't usually result in serious damage, they can affect your insurance rates.

Even a small collision or liability claim can raise your premiums, especially if you have a previous incident on your recent driving history.

The parked car: If you hit a parked car and cannot locate the owner, leave a note. (See "I just hit your car. Sorry!") It's not only the right thing to do, it's the law. In most states you will be committing hit and run if you don't leave a note. A hit-and run-conviction will definitely raise your insurance rates for years and may even result in a cancellation.

Note that the owner of a parked car isn't automatically blameless. But usually that's so.

If your parked car was hit and the culprit neglected to leave a note, you will have to make a claim against your own collision insurance and be responsible for the deductible. If you are not carrying collision coverage, you will be on the hook for the repairs. Uninsured motorist property damage does not cover a hit-and-run claim, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst with Carinsurance.com.

Moving vehicles: Gusner recommends calling the police no matter how minor the fender-bender. If the police refuse to come out, exchange information with the other driver and report the loss to your insurance company. An adjuster will then determine fault.

If the other person is found to be at fault, you would file a property damage liability claim with his or her insurance company. If you're at fault, your insurer should cover damages to the other person's car and your collision coverage will pay for repairs to your vehicle.

Gusner offers the following tips when it comes to parking lot accidents:

  • Find witnesses. Look around for witnesses and ask for their names and contact information. They can help testify as to the location of each car when the accident happened.
  • Take photos. Take photos with your smartphone. Do not move the vehicles until you have taken a number of photos to document the scene. When you get home, diagram the accident.
  • Don't argue. A fistfight in the parking lot is not a way to begin your holidays. Do not admit fault, but don't argue over fault. Exchange information and let the insurance companies or police determine fault. (A dash cam might settle disagreements very quickly.)

The best way to keep your premiums low is to avoid an accident in the first place. Here is some expert advice on navigating Black Friday parking lots:

  • Drive slowly. Use turn signals to indicate your intentions.
  • Look for cars cutting diagonally across the parking lot.
  • Be extra careful when backing out. Other drivers may be waiting, or backing out opposite you, or a texting pedestrian may wander by.
  • Do not park between spots or take up two spots. This is an invitation for an irate shopper to damage or key your car.
  • Avoid parking lots altogether and do your shopping online on Cyber Monday.
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