UPDATED: Mar 12, 2020
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Parking lot fender benders can do a lot more than ruin your day. The smallest accident can cause a spike in your insurance rates. Typically, if it is not your fault and it’s your first time in an accident, there will be no raise for you. However studies have found that a driver who makes one claim of $2,000 or more could see a premium increase of 41 percent.
If you are in a car accident in a parking lot, whether you are the one at fault or the victim, here is what to do.
If you own the car that got hit, here is what you should do:
Contact your agent. They will help you determine next steps. This will also protect you in case the person who hit you chooses not to report the accident to their insurance company or if they do not have coverage at all.
Call the police. Having the police present to help you sort through the situation is particularly important if you own the car that got hit. They will determine who was at fault for the accident. If you are not at fault and the police are not there to confirm that, the insurance company of the other driver can more easily work to get them off of the hook for damages.
Get the other driver’s information. Even if the two of you decide to drive off without taking further steps because the damage appears to be minor or non-existent, you may not realize there are issues with your car until later and will want at least the contact information of the other driver.
Take pictures of the damage. Even if the other driver took pictures, it is wise to have photos of your own.
Gather evidence. Ask witnesses to reveal what they saw or enter the store and ask if they have security cameras that could have captured the accident. This will help protect you in case the other person’s story changes.
If your car has been involved in a hit and run and there is no sign of the driver that hit your car you will want to ask people around you to see if they witnessed the accident, inquire inside the store about security cameras in the parking lot, and call the police and report the damage. Calling the police is an important step as some insurance companies require immediate police contact for the accident to be considered a hit and run and determine that you are not at fault for the accident.
For the at-fault driver:
Do not drive off. It is not only wrong to flee the scene after you damage someone’s property, it is illegal. If there are witnesses or security cameras, chances are you could get charged with a hit and run. It will save you a whole lot of trouble to face the problem at hand.
If the other car owner is not in the vehicle, then track them down. If you are outside of a store, go in and ask an employee for help by asking for the car owner over the intercom.
Leave a note. If you cannot locate the car owner, then leave a detailed note about the accident with your name and number.
Assess and document the damage. Make sure your car is not causing a safety problem for other vehicles or pedestrians and get out to check out the damage. Take photos to document what has happened. This will help protect you as much as it protects the person whose car you hit, so they cannot come up with additional damage to blame on you later.
Exchange information with the other driver. Here’s the information that you will need to exchange with the other driver: name, contact information, address, driver’s license number, insurance company, policy number, and VIN number.
Call the police (if the other driver hasn’t already). The police can help by impartially documenting the damage and taking control of the situation if any tempers are flaring. They can also help with tracking down the other car owner if still not found. Insurers often rely on a police report to determine which driver is at fault.
Contact your agent. If you try to avoid telling your insurance provider about the accident in hopes of not increasing your rates, it could end up backfiring. If the driver of the other vehicle later decides to sue you for the accident, then the insurance provider may pull out from covering any legal or medical costs, which would likely be way more than any increase.
If neither person is acknowledging that it was their fault, the police will be essential to getting to the bottom of the situation and correctly placing blame.
Someone hit my parked car. Will my insurance rates go up?
The unfortunate answer to this is: it depends. If you are the at-fault driver in a parking lot accident, your rates will likely go up after. However, if you have accident forgiveness in your insurance plan or if it is your first accident then they may not.
If your car was parked at the time or you were found to be not at fault, here are some factors that could affect whether or not your insurance rates will rise:
The state you live in. States have different at-fault auto insurance laws.
Your insurance company and policy. Different insurance companies have different rules and policies that vary in their protections.
If you created a situation with where you parked or the manner in which you parked that made the accident unavoidable, then you could actually get the blame for the accident.
There may be ways to avoid a rate spike after an accident such as taking a driving course, increasing your deductible, or even shopping around for another insurance policy. If the repair is close to the price of the deductible and the driver can afford it, some people choose not to make a claim to their insurance company and handle it on their own.
Determining Fault in a Parking Lot
If you are reversing out and someone hits you, who has the right of way? This and other parking lot scenarios will be addressed in this section.
There is a set of guidelines that police and insurance companies use to assign fault in parking lot accidents. Here are some of those:
- If you are driving behind a car and hit that car from behind, you will most likely get the blame. Even if the other car stopped suddenly, it is the job of the driver behind them to leave enough room between the cars and to be alert so that they can quickly brake without risk of hitting the car in front of them.
- If you are traveling the wrong way in a one-way parking lot aisle (usually marked by painted arrows on the pavement) when you get into an accident, you will likely be found at fault.
- Vehicles driving down the main thoroughfare of the parking lot, which is the larger lane that connects all the smaller lanes in the parking lot, have the right-of-way over the smaller lanes. So if you are waiting in a lane to get out into the main thoroughfare, you need to wait for the other cars in that lane before you feed into it. However, if the main lane has stop signs, then you can treat the intersections as you would any other intersection with stop signs.
- Cars traveling down the lanes have the right of way over cars pulling out of parking spots, so if you are reversing out of a spot and another vehicle is coming down the lane it is your job to stop in time so that you do not get hit.
- Pedestrians always have the right away, so if you do something to violate that, you may be at fault.
Tips to Avoid a Parking Lot Accident
There are a lot of potential hazards in a parking lot such as loose shopping carts, poor visibility, and pedestrians traveling in every direction. Here are tips for avoiding a parking lot accident:
Put down your phone. Being distracted by a call or having your eyes down on your phone can not only be the difference maker in getting into an avoidable accident, it is dangerous to you and others around you.
Drive slowly so that you have time to react to pedestrians popping out from behind a car or cars suddenly reversing out of a spot in front of you.
Use turn signals.
Obey all signage, such as stop and yield signs.
Park further away from the building. It is usually less congested the further out you get with fewer people, carts, and cars. A few extra steps could save you a lot of time and money if it helps you avoid an accident.
Try reversing into parking spots so that you can pull out going forward, which allows for better vision and could potentially help you avoid hitting another vehicle coming down the lane.