Money Girl explains how to handle a parking lot car accident so you stay safe, don't break the law, and protect your finances.
Parking lots are busy places, with harried drivers pulling into and out of spaces, pedestrians making their way to and from stores, teenage skateboarders ripping around, and the occasional rogue shopping cart whizzing by.
It’s estimated that one out of every 5 car accidents happens in a parking lot. Most are “fender benders,” which might have you wondering if you should report minor damage to the authorities and your insurance company, or just handle it yourself.
In this episode, I’ll give you 6 steps to follow if you get involved in a parking lot car accident. They'll help keep you safe, prevent you from breaking the law, and make sure you protect your finances.
6 Steps for Dealing with a Minor Parking Lot Car Accident
I remember the very first car crash I got into and, yes, it was in a parking lot. I was backing out of a space and didn’t see the other car coming. Oops.
Even if you’re a very cautious driver, you might return to your car and find it worse off than when you left it. So what’s the right way to handle a parking lot accident with relatively minor damage, such as a dented fender or scratches on the paint?
Here are 6 steps to take if you’re involved in a parking lot car accident:
Step #1: Protect Yourself
The first step is to make sure that you and other people at the scene of an accident are safe. If anyone needs medical attention, call 911.
Step #2: Call the Police
Then call the police and file a report, even if there’s minimal damage to your car and no one appears injured.
That’s because many injuries don’t become apparent until days or weeks following an accident. And later on, if you discover that you were actually injured, it may be your word against the other driver’s without a formal report of the accident.
However, it's possible the police may not come to the scene of a parking lot accident if no one is injured, if the damage is too minor, or if there’s extreme weather in the area, such as a blizzard or severe storms.
Even if the authorities don’t come in person, reporting the accident is still important. Some states require you to report any accident to authorities when damage is estimated to be over a certain amount, such as $500 or $1,000. The authorities can tell you if you might be able to go to the nearest police station or file a report online within a certain amount of time following the incident.
Never get into an argument about what happened or who was at fault—or even admit if the accident was your fault.
Step #3: Gather Information
Once you call the police, start gathering as much information as possible. Get the name of the driver (and any passengers), his or her driver’s license number, insurance information, phone number, and vehicle license plate number.
Never get into an argument about what happened or who was at fault—or even admit if the accident was your fault. The situation can get emotional, so just stick to business and let the other party know that your insurance company will work it out.
If the other person is uncooperative or you believe that he or she doesn’t have auto insurance, just get as much information as you can.
If you hit a parked car and the owner is nowhere in sight, record information about the vehicle and leave a note under the wiper blade with all of your contact information. Otherwise, you’re considered a hit-and-run driver and could face fines or even jail time, depending on the state’s laws.
Step #4: Document the Scene
Don’t move the vehicles until you take photographs of the accident area, including vehicle damage, broken glass, and any skid marks. If you don’t have a smartphone with a camera, always keep a disposable camera in your car just in case. Note that some insurance companies have mobile apps that allow you to upload accident photos when you make a claim.
Step #5: Find Witnesses
The only time it might be smart to avoid making a claim is if an accident happens in your vehicle, on your property, and the only damage is to your property.
Look around for witnesses to a parking lot accident. Maybe a store employee saw the accident happen while collecting shopping carts or taking a break? Or perhaps there’s a surveillance camera that shows the incident? When you find witnesses, get their names and contact information in case you need them later on, especially if you’ve been the victim of a hit-and-run.
Step #6: Call Your Insurance Company
If you’re involved in a minor accident, you might wonder if you should report it to your insurance company, or just work it out with the other driver.
Note that anytime you’re in an accident with another person, you’re required to report it to your insurer. That’s because the damage or injuries could be much worse than you think. And if you end up getting sued later on, your insurance company might deny you certain coverage because you failed to promptly report an incident.
The only time it might be smart to avoid making a claim is if an accident happens in your vehicle, on your property, and the only damage is to your property. For instance, if you back into your own garage door, or a tree limb falls on your vehicle.
You should contact your insurer if you’ve been in an accident where the other driver is at fault, even if he or she doesn’t have any insurance. Depending on your policy, you may have uninsured motorist coverage that would compensate you.
If you’re at fault, you’ll be required to pay your deductible before the insurer pays for your vehicle repairs. You’ll also be assigned points for the accident, which typically causes your insurance rate to increase at renewal.
Tips to Avoid a Parking Lot Car Accident
To avoid getting into a parking lot car accident in the first place, keep these tips in mind:
- Drive slowly and stay alert for cars cutting across parking lanes.
- Use turn signals to make your intentions known to other motorists and pedestrians.
- Choose a parking spot where you don’t have to back up, but instead can pull forward to leave the space.
- Choose a parking space at the end of a row, next to an island, or in front of a light pole when possible, to protect your car.
- Don’t park in a compact space if you’re not driving a compact car—and never take up 2 spaces by parking over a line.
- Never rely solely on mirrors or rear-view cameras when backing out. Turn your head 180 degrees in both directions to visually check the area for oncoming traffic.
- Avoid shopping center parking lots on busy weekend days and during holidays.
- Don’t insist on taking the closest parking space. You may be able to park more quickly and in a safer, less congested spot by choosing a space farther away from a store.
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