What Should I Do if I Hit a Parked Car?
Hitting a parked car often causes drivers to panic, typically for not knowing how to handle this type of accident. In the eyes of the law and insurance companies, parked car collisions are no different than any other type of car accident and drivers do have expected responsibilities to meet.
In nearly every case, the driver who strikes a parked car is the responsible party because the other car is stationary, and unable to avoid the accident. State law varies depending on where you live, but all states do have certain requirements specifically for accidents involving a parked vehicle. The same is true of insurance companies in order for them to cover damages. Failure to do so with either could result in criminal charges and all financial costs your responsibility.
If you stuck a parked car, comply with local and state laws and protect yourself by immediately conducting the following:
- Do not leave: Leaving the scene of an accident, even when the car is parked and the owner is not around, is considered a hit and run, which is a criminal offense. Laws vary between states, and charges can range from a misdemeanor to felony and result in fines, jail time, points on your license, or all three. Once caught and arrested, your insurance company may also increase your rates or cancel your coverage. The law allows you to make a “reasonable” attempt to locate the car’s owner, meaning you may make attempts to locate the owner but do so on foot and do not drive away from the scene. If police have been called to the scene and arrive during your absence, noting that your vehicle is still on the scene demonstrates to the officer it is likely not a hit and run situation.
- Stay calm and evaluate: Accidents involving parked cars are usually low-speed accidents, such as pulling out of a parking space or traveling through a parking lot. But even low-speed accidents can result in injuries to the occupants of either car. Remain calm, pull your car out of the way of others, if possible, and turn on the car’s flasher lights. Check to see if any passengers are injured and call for police and emergency responders to provide medical treatment.
- Wait for the owner: If the accident takes place in a restaurant parking lot, odds are you will be able to successfully locate the other car’s owner by enlisting the help of restaurant staff. The same is true if there happen to be occupants in the parked car. However, an accident in a shopping mall parking lot makes finding the car’s owner more difficult. Query any potential witnesses as to whether they know who the car belongs to or saw where the owner went after parking. You may choose to call the police at this point, who can run the plates and find information on the car’s owner. You are permitted to leave the scene after making a reasonable effort to locate the owner and provide your information or call the police to report the accident if you are concerned about being charged with a hit and run.
- Leave a note: An important component of the “reasonable” attempt rule is providing information for the driver of the parked car in the form of a note. Many states include this as a requirement in cases where the owner cannot be easily and quickly located and serves as evidence the accident was not a hit and run incident. Keep the note simple, providing your name, address, telephone number, and a brief explanation as to the circumstances. Place the note under the car’s windshield wiper, enclosing it in a plastic bag in inclement weather, if possible. Additionally, take a photo of the note showing its contents, and one of the note under the windshield and showing the car, should there be any questions on your attempts to notify the owner or the condition of the car at the time of the accident.
- Report to police: If there is major property damage or injuries, call the police right away. Additionally, some states require police notification on all accidents, regardless of the situation. Failure to do so could result in charges, fines, or potential jail time.
- Document the scene: Take photos or video of the scene, vehicle damage, and anything additional that may have contributed to the accident, such as an ice patch that caused you to slide into the car.
- Gather statements: Ask any witnesses for a statement and their contact information and ask them to share any photos or videos they may taken of the accident with you. Doing this also shows that you did not flee the scene.
- Contact your insurance company: Insurance companies required you to notify them of any accident, regardless of whether you located the other car’s owner and left a note. Doing so protects both you and your insurance company, so contacting them as soon as possible is important.
- Contact an attorney: You can handle the insurance claim on your own, but this is not advisable. Though hitting a parked car may seem like a simple case, insurance companies do not like paying and will attempt to avoid that outcome in any way possible. Car accident claims can be complex, so it is recommended to at least consult an attorney about your options before accepting any agreements or sign documents from the insurance company. If you panicked at the time and left the scene, contact an attorney immediately to represent you, communicate with police on your behalf, and help you present your version of events.
If your car is struck while parked, these same steps apply for providing evidence. If the owner of the car that struck yours is not at the scene and did not leave a note, call the police to report the incident as a hit and run. The police will be able to investigate more in-depth and locate the owner.
Accidents that have no visible damage do not require you to remain on the scene or have any financial responsibility, technically speaking. However, not all damage is outwardly obvious. There could be internal damage, such as to the car’s frame or suspension, which could create a greater problem for you later if you leave. Remain on the scene and attempt to follow the above steps just to be certain.
Leaving a note for the owner does not necessarily mean you will be contacted. In cases of minor or no visible damage, some car owners do not see a need in filing a claim. That may be the end in some cases, but most states allow up to two years to file a property damage lawsuit.
Millsboro Car Accident Lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. Assist Clients Involved in Parked Car Accidents
If you struck a parked car, or if your parked vehicle was struck, our Millsboro car accident lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. can help. Call us today at 302-656-5445 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Wilmington and Millsboro, Delaware. We represent clients in Dover, New Castle County, Sussex County, and throughout Delaware.