When we think about vehicle accidents, what typically comes to mind are road collisions. Any time one vehicle hits another, it's an accident even if one of the cars is parked and unattended when it happens.
In fact, a large percentage of reported “hit and run” accidents happen when someone hits a parked car in a parking lot and then leaves without reporting it. In 2010, Allstate Insurance examined their claims data and reported that nationally, 69 percent of their hit-and-run claims were from customers whose cars had been hit while parked. These are often slow speed accidents. Some can do a lot of damage, even totaling your car.
In every state, it's a crime to leave the scene of an accident, which includes hitting a parked car. You won't always catch the offender, though, which is when uninsured motorist coverage comes in handy. We've outlined the steps to take when someone hits your parked car, whether you were there to witness it or whether you didn't see it happen.
How Should You Handle an Accident If You Witnessed It?
If you've just parked your car and you see someone back into it, here are the important steps to take.
- Remain calm. It’s understandably frustrating and aggravating to see someone hit your parked car. However, getting angry or escalating a situation is never a good idea, and becoming combative could lead to a road rage incident. It's important to remain calm. You may remember more if you do.
- Get the other driver’s information. You’ll need the other driver's name, address, contact information and insurance information. Politely ask to see their driver's license, and write down the driver's name and address. Make sure to get the driver's phone number too. If they drive away, try to get their license plate number.
- Take some pictures. Use your cell phone's camera to take photos of the damage to your vehicle and the other driver's vehicle. If there are any weather-related factors that could be relevant, such as mud, snow, or ice present, document those conditions as well.
- Identify any potential witnesses. If there were people around who saw the accident, get their names and contact information. Additionally, look for any non-human witnesses with millions of surveillance cameras deployed in parking lots across the country, it's possible that the accident was recorded on video. Take note of the time, so that if security footage needs to be requested the incident, it will be easier to locate. Sometimes, you also need a third party to verify what happened.
- Contact the police. If there’s going to be an insurance claim filed about an accident, it's best to have a police report as well. So call the police immediately to report the accident.
- Contact their insurance company and yours. If the other driver hit your legally parked car, they are at fault. Their insurance company should cover the damage to your vehicle. If you were not legally parked, the situation is likely to be a bit more complicated. The earlier you start the claims process, the better.
What Happens If You Didn't See The Accident?
If someone hits your parked car and you didn't see the accident, the steps you should take vary somewhat. While essentially similar, you'll take them in different order. Because the other driver isn't around for you to collect information, you should:
- Check for a note. If someone hits your parked car and you aren’t around, the other driver is required by law to leave their contact information. If they left a note, contact their insurance company if they remembered to include that information — if not, call the person who left the note and ask them for their insurance information. Note: try to remember that they did the responsible thing (required by law) in leaving their information. You might be upset about the damage, but at least you have their information, and they probably feel as bad as you do, if not worse. If you don’t see a note, it’s considered a hit-and-run accident.
- Contact the police. A hit-and-run is a serious violation, even if the accident itself wasn’t. Notify the police so that there is a report on file.
- See if there are any witnesses. If your car was parked in a shopping area, see if any of the employees in nearby stores witnessed the accident, and ask about surveillance video. If it was on the street in a residential area, see if any residents saw what happened — and ask if they have security camera footage that might be helpful.
- Take pictures. Photograph the damage, and take note of any weather or other factors that might have played a role in the accident.
- Contact your insurer. If you have collision insurance, this will likely cover any damage repair, minus the amount of your deductible. If a driver flees the scene of an accident, they are considered “uninsured” in most states. If this is the case and you have uninsured motorist property damage coverage, this will cover the repairs to your damaged vehicle.
It’s worth restating again — leaving the scene of even a minor parking lot accident without leaving a note is classified as a hit-and-run accident. Although penalties vary from state to state, leaving the scene of an accident is considered a serious traffic violation. In some states, if no one was injured in a hit and run, it will be a misdemeanor charge for the offender if caught. In other states it can be classified as a felony even if no one was hurt.
It's a bummer to pay more in auto insurance if you hit someone's parked car, but it beats having a criminal charge on your driving record.
With more and more homeowners using security cameras and shopping centers installing them in parking lots for safety reasons, it's increasingly likely that there's a recording of it when someone hits your parked car. If they didn't leave a note, don't overlook this step it could be the key to tracking down who hit your vehicle.
How Can Your Auto Insurance Company Protect You If Your Parked Car Was Hit?
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