Parking Lot Accident Fault & Liability: What to Know

September 08, 2014

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Parking lots are the wild, wild west when it comes to automobile accidents.

For starters, because most lots are private property, the normal rules of the road don’t always apply. This makes determining parking lot accident fault & liability extremely difficult. And second, parking lot accidents are more frequent than you might imagine, with one in five reported car collisions occurring in parking lots. Given that jaw-dropping number, it makes sense to have a plan for handling parking lot mishaps.

Given that jaw-dropping number, it makes sense to have a plan for handling parking lot mishaps.

Here are a few critical steps to take to ensure you handle parking lot accidents in a safe, efficient and lawful manner:

Parking Lot Safety

Let’s start here, because many accidents can be avoided by following a few simple parking lot safety suggestions. First, look for parking spots that allow you to pull through, so you can avoid backing into cars that zip in and out of your blind spots while exiting a spot The No. 1 cause for parking lot accidents is one driver backing into another. Likewise, avoid dimly lit areas and any parking spots near the entrance or exit of a parking lot, as these are the most highly trafficked.

Know what to do if you’re in a parking lot accident

While there are a few hundred deaths each year attributed to pedestrians being hit in parking lots, when it comes to two cars colliding – or a car hitting another object – the low speeds involved usually mean that the cars’ occupants are safe. After you’ve ensured all parties are OK, you’ll want to immediately take two steps. First, take pictures of the scene as soon as possible, both close-ups of damage and shots from a distance to provide context for the accident scene. Police may not respond to parking lot accidents – we’ll cover this in greater detail below – so assume you’re responsible for gathering evidence and taking notes. Do this before moving your car, unless you or other motorists are in harm’s way.

The other step to take is to get the other driver’s information. Be sure to get the driver’s contact info, vehicle info (make, model and license plate number) as well as the car insurance information. The person driving the car may not be the car’s owner, so the more information you can get, the better. When volunteering info, know that you should only supply your name, phone number and auto insurance info. A growing number of identity thieves take advantages of drivers during this scenario by asking for their driver’s license numbers, social security numbers, and other information that isn’t helpful during an accident, but can enable them to steal your identity.

Decide whether to call or not to call

When it comes to calling the police and filing a claim with your insurance company, there are many schools of thought. If the damage is minor, and all drivers desire to reconcile outside of insurance, then that’s certainly an option. But there are a few details to keep in mind. First, if you’re at fault and worried about your auto insurance rate rising because of a parking lot accident, know that most insurers have a minimum monetary threshold of damage to hit – for example, $1,000 – before your rate will be impacted. Be sure to ask your insurance company what the threshold is for a chargeable loss. Also, if you’re at fault, you’ll likely avoid having to pay any damages out of pocket because there are no deductibles on third-party claims. In other words, think twice before handling the accident fallout independently.

It’s the safest bet to submit a claim for several reasons. First, unless you’re an auto mechanic, it’s often tough to decipher superficial damage from much more expensive repairs. Also, depending on your car insurance company, an effective agent can be a critical resource in ensuring you follow all the necessary post-accident protocol. Finally, even if all parties agree that you’ll handle a claim outside of insurance and the law, this may not stop another party from filing a claim and submitting a police report. They many even lie or distort the facts. Consequently, even if the police aren’t at the scene of your parking lot accident, consider stopping by the station to submit a report anyways with all the accurate details just in case someone tries to take advantage of the situation.

If you hit a parked car and can’t locate the driver, leave a note with all of your information. Most parking lots of surveillance cameras, and the last outcome you want is the one where you’re charged with leaving the scene of an accident when that was never your intention.

Just because parking lot accidents are very common does not mean that they aren’t complicated. More often than not, multiple parties are deemed to have some level of fault in these collisions. Plus, parking lot accidents are the most common accident to trigger civil suits and trials. By knowing the facts and responding responsible – whether you’re at fault, an innocent victim or simply a witness – you’re be much more likely to achieve a smooth resolution, ensuring the event was just another speed bump on the road of life.

Want a quick summary of what you’ve learned today? Check out this parking lot infographic.


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