Oh no! I just hit a parked car. So, naturally, you're wondering what to do next if you've had a parking lot accident. We'll explain the role insurance plays in parking lot incidents.
While you may feel a bit silly hitting a car that wasn't moving, you are not alone. Over 50,000 accidents a year involve a parked car. Unfortunately, just because the car wasn't moving doesn't mean the accident won't hit your driving record or raise your insurance rates.
The most important thing to do after colliding with parked car is make sure you take responsibility. A fender bender can quickly turn into a crime if you decide to take off without searching for the owner or leaving a note.
Take a deep breath and keep reading to learn what you need to do the next time you hit a parked car – or what should happen if someone hits your parked car.
Parking lot accidents are common
Parking lot accidents are fairly common. National Safety Council (NSC) data shows that over 50,000 accidents happen in parking lots and parking garages every year. These accidents result in roughly 500 deaths and over 60,000 injuries.
Distracted driving probably plays a major in parking lot accidents, slower speeds in parking lots may make drivers feel more confident sending a quick text but it's always dangerous to take your eyes off the road. According to a NSC poll, 66 percent of drivers would make phone calls while driving through a parking lot, and 56 percent would text. "It's just as dangerous to be distracted in a parking lot going 5 mph as it is going 50 mph," said NSC president Deborah Hersman in a press release.
Allstate insurance ran the numbers and found that roughly 69 percent of their hit and run claims involved parked cars. In Colorado for example, a whopping 70 percent of hit and runs in Denver involved parked cars while in Fort Collins the number was 84 percent. Apparently, an empty car makes it easy for less than honest drivers to clip a car and take off without taking responsibility.
Leaving the scene of an accident is llegal and can result in a hit and run charge if you are later identified, via camera footage or witnesses. While a hit and run is a misdemeanor in most states, if you do significant damage to a car or injure someone it can result in a felony charge.
What to do when you hit a parked car
There are a number of things you should do after you hit a parked car but the most important one is to not flee the scene. Here is a rundown of what to do after you have hit a parked car:
Make sure no one is injured
If anyone is in your car or the parked car you hit, your first action should be to make sure everyone is unharmed. While most accidents involving parked cars are simple fender benders, it is possible for there to be injuries.
If any person is complaining of pain or any type of injury, call 911 so they can be checked out. It is also a good idea to have the police come out to issue a police report, this can be helpful with any insurance claims.
What to do if you hit an unattended vehicle
If you damage an unattended vehicle you must leave a note if you can’t find the owner.
If the parked car is empty, most state laws require you to make a reasonable attempt to find and notify the car owner of the incident. If the owner can’t be found, a note should be left. As an example, if you're outside of a convenience store when you fit a parked car, it would be reasonable to go inside and ask around for the car owner. However, if you hit a car in the middle of a big city or a long-term parking at an airport, it's unlikely you’ll be able to find the owner -- so time to get out a pen and paper.
When leaving a note, keep it simple with just your contact and insurance information. "Don't talk about what happened or apologize to the other driver. These statements can be used against you later," warns Joseph Hoelscher, with Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda, a law firm in San Antonio, Texas
The majority of states require you to leave the following information in your note:
- Contact number
- Explanation of accident
Hoelscher recommends leaving a copy of your insurance card if you have it handy. "The fastest and easiest way to leave your info is just to leave the insurance card." If you were driving someone else's car at the time of the accident, you are required to leave the name and address of the car's owner as well.
Leave the note in a conspicuous place, under the windshield wiper is good, and then wait for them to call. If you didn’t leave your insurance information, be prepared to share that with the other party when they call.
Call the police to report the accident
While the police are unlikely to respond to a minor parking lot fender bender, it is always a good idea to file a report over the phone so there is a legal trail to follow. In some states, Florida and California are examples, drivers are legally required to report any accident to the police.
It is important to document that the car was unoccupied at the time you hit it (if that is the case) so the owner cannot come back later claiming injuries. Give the police the details of both cars, including the license plate numbers, a description of the damage and how the accident happened.
Document the damage
Take photos of both cars and the damage that was done. Be sure to take photos of the vehicles license plate as well as the damage to your own car for your insurance company. It’s also a good idea to take a photo of the note you put on the windshield, this proves that you followed the law.
If the car you hit already has damage that was not caused by you make sure to document that as well, so your insurer doesn't end up paying for damage you didn't cause.
Talk to witnesses
Look for witnesses and get their contact information or a video of them describing what happened.
Contact your insurer
Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to report the accident, even if you could not find the owner. This way they have your side of the story when the person you hit calls in their claim. In addition, it gets your insurer started on your claim to repair the damage to your vehicle.
It will vary by insurer but having this information on hand will make your claim go quicker:
- License plate number of car you hit
- Location details of accident
- Contact information for person whose car you hit if you have it
- Description of how accident happened
- Contact information for any witnesses
- Photos of the damage of both cars
What insurance covers parked car accidents?
When it comes to parked car accidents, there are a few types of insurance that cover the damage done. Here is a brief overview of exactly which insurance coverages are used in these types of incidents:
- Property Damage Liability: This portion of your policy covers the damage you do to someone else's property. In this case, it pays out to repair or replace the person's car you hit up to your coverage limits.
Coverage limits can vary and you can set your limits when you purchase a policy. Almost every state in the country requires drivers to carry liability coverage but the required coverage limits can be quite low. As an example, in California, the required property damage coverage limit is a mere $5,000. Unless you barely scraped a 20-year-old car, this is not going to be enough coverage to fix the vehicle.
If you are carrying low limits and do significant damage to a vehicle, you will be on the hook for the difference. Imagine you hit a newish car and manage to do $7,500 worth of damage. If you are carrying the California minimum amount of coverage, you will be writing a check for $2,500 to repair their vehicle.
Most experts recommend upping property damage coverage to $50,000 and bodily injury even higher. "I always recommend carrying at least 100/300/50 when it comes to automotive liability coverage," says Penny Gusner, senior consumer analyst for Carinsurance.com.
- Bodily Injury Liability: This portion of your policy covers the cost of injuries to a person if someone was in the parked car that you hit. Bodily injury insurance will pay medical bills, lost wages and even cover the cost of your defense if you are sued, up to your coverage limits. Just like property damage insurance, having the right coverage limits in place is important.
Hospital bills and legal bills can quickly spiral out of control and if you are not carrying enough coverage you will be on the hook for the difference.
- Collision: This coverage pays to repair your vehicle, minus your deductible. If the cost to repair your vehicle is $2,500 and you have a $500 you will be responsible for the first $500 and your insurer will cover the rest. This is not a required coverage so you must be carrying collision insurance in order to get your car repaired by your insurance company.
Parking lot accident laws
You may be wondering what happens if you hit a parked car and don’t leave the required note. It’s against the law to leave the scene of an accident in every state, and in most states, it’s considered a hit and run. Penalties vary by state but at the very least you could be hit with a misdemeanor charge (or felony if you do significant damage or injury someone), a hefty fine and dramatically higher insurance rates. It’s possible that you could end up doing a short jail stint, community service or even have your license suspended.
As an example, in Colorado, if you hit an unoccupied car and leave the scene you are looking at a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense that comes with penalties of 10-90 days in jail, and/or a fine of $150-$300. In many cases, your license will also be suspended.
While you may not think you will get caught, there is actually a good chance you will. According to an estimate from IHS Markit, the number of security cameras in the U.S. has risen from 33 million in 2012 up to 70 million in 2018 and they expect it to swell to 85 million by 2021. As personal security cameras (think Ring and Nest) blanket neighborhoods and anyone walking by could have captured the accident on their phone, the odds of someone catching your crime on camera are pretty high.
In addition to fines, jail time and the loss of your license, if you flee the scene of an accident your insurance costs will skyrocket. "A minor accident may raise your rates by 20 to 40 percent," says Gusner. "Leaving the scene of an accident is a completely different beast," continues Gusner. "As an example, in North Carolina there is no insurance surcharge if do less than $2,300 in property damage in an auto accident if you are not convicted of an offense. However, a hit-and-run that only involves property damage (you didn't hurt anyone) will put 4 surcharge points on your insurance record, which comes with an 80% rate increase and one with injuries comes with 12 surcharge points and 340% insurance rate hike.
How long after a hit and run accident you can be charged varies by state but can be several years. For instance, in California the statute of limitations on a hit and run is six years.
The bottom line is do not leave the scene if you hit another car without taking the right steps: Do a reasonable search for the owner, if can’t find owner leave a note and report incident to the police.
Parked car accident and insurance rates
You probably want to know if your insurance rates will increase if you hit a parked car and if so, how much. There is no answer that applies in all situations and whether your rates are headed up will most likely hinge on a few factors.
Since you hit a car that was parked, there is no doubt that you are at fault in the accident so your insurer will consider this an at-fault accident. The only exceptions might be if the accident was beyond your control, as an example, a pedestrian jumped out in front of your causing you to swerve or the car was parked illegally. Even in these examples you would normally be found at fault, but perhaps not 100% so. A few other factors the insurer will consider:
- Cost of damage: The amount of damage you caused will impact your premium increase, the more money your insurer pays out the more likely it is your rates will go up
- Tickets: If you were given a ticket it’s more likely your rates are going up, especially if you already have other infractions on your driving record.
- Previous claims: If you already have a number of claims on your record you’re nearly guaranteed to see a rate increase
- You have accident forgiveness: If you have accident forgiveness on your policy you shouldn't see a rate increase as long as your record is clean otherwise. And a bonus is you also don’t lose your good driver discount.
If your rates are headed up, it’s more than likely going to fall in the 20 to 40 percent range for a minor accident according to Gusner. “Not only will you see a surcharge for the accident, but you may also lose any good driver discount you have earned if this is your first accident or claim.” If the damage, however, is severe, then rates may increase as much as 110%.
Hitting a parked car will almost always result in a smaller increase than if you managed to do bodily damage to someone. "A rate increase will be far less for property damage compared to an accident involving personal injury, advises Peter M. Goldberg, with Goldberg & Weigand, a law firm in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
Should you offer to pay out of pocket?
The majority of parked car fender benders don't involve huge, expensive damage (unless you hit a Ferrari or crash going at a high speed) so it may make sense to cover the damage out of pocket.
Paying out of pocket keeps your insurance record clean and means you will avoid a premium increase. "Any time you make a claim there is a very good chance your rates will go up," warns Gusner. "Save your insurance for major claims and pay small incidents out of pocket if you can afford it." But remember the other party has to agree to you paying out of pocket and not making a claim.
One last word of advice from Gusner, “If you decide to settle without a claim being made, be certain to have the other party sign off that they received compensation and your financial duties for the accident have been fulfilled. That way if they try to double dip and also claim with your insurer, you’ll have proof it was already taken care of.”
FAQs: Parking lot accidents
I hit a car and left no damage, what’s next?
Even if you do not see damage the right, and legal, thing to do is look for the owner and leave a note if the owner can’t be found. It’s wise to take photos of the parked car, the whole car and then where you hit it, so that way you can document what you claim is “no damage.” If the car owner agrees with you, they may let it go. If instead the owner sees damage, they will contact you to discuss the next steps, such as making a claim.
What if someone hit my parked car?
If you are there, get their information, most importantly their car insurance information. If they left a note, contact the party to get their insurance information if it was not left for you. Next, it is wise to document the damage. You then can make a claim against the person’s property damage liability coverage. You could also make a claim against your own collision coverage, but Gusner advises against this. “First, you have to pay a deductible with your own insurer and also the claim will go on your record. It’s generally better to make the claim through the at-fault party’s insurance so that driver gets the claim on his or her record and no deductible is required.” From there the insurance company will guide you through the claims process so your car can be repaired.
Will my car insurance go up if I make a claim for my parked car getting hit?
Yes, there is the possibility that your rates will go up since you are making a claim. However, some state laws don’t allow your rates to rise if the incident causing the claim was not your fault. Also, some insurers on their own will not raise your rates if the claim costs are under a certain amount, such as $2,500 and you were not at fault. However, if you are making a claim this is a good question to ask and also see if you’ll lose any discounts, such a good driver discount.
Does car insurance cover if my parked car is the victim of a hit and run?
Being the owner of a hit and run parked car isn’t a grand situation to be in as you have to first make a police report. Next, you can make a claim against your collision coverage, which unfortunately means you’ll have to pay a deductible. If the damage is minimal, under your deductible amount, you’ll have to pay for the damage yourself unless the at-fault party is found and held responsible. If you the at-fault party is not found and you don’t have collision coverage, you’re unfortunately left holding the bag and paying personally for the damage to your vehicle.