The first thing that comes to mind when you hear hit and run probably isn’t hitting a parked car. More often, the term brings to mind images of a reckless driver striking another car and then taking off from the scene.
The fact is that hit and run accidents are more common than you might think. Nearly 70% of all hit-and-runs involve parked cars with a large majority occurring in parking lots. Too often, drivers hit cars as they pull into or out of parking spaces and then just leave pretending nothing happened. In some ways, the frequency with which dents and dings occur in parking lots has led to the mindset that it’s just a hazard drivers expect when parking their vehicles.
Anyone who has paid a body repair bill knows that there is no such thing as ‘minor damage’. You need to know what to do whether your car is hit or you hit someone else’s.
When Another Driver Hits Your Parked Car
Nothing feels worse than leaving work or finishing up a shopping trip only to find your car damaged. There’s no sign of another driver, no note, no clue to what happened. On the other hand, it’s possible that you are nearby at the time the accident occurred. Whether you witness the accident or not determines your best course of action.
If you witnessed the accident
Above all else, keep your cool. Your first instinct might be to strike back. Once the conversation gets off on the wrong foot, there’s little hope of coming to an easy resolution. It isn’t likely the other driver meant to hit your car and they’re probably upset about the incident too.
If the driver is at the scene, politely gather their name and address, a phone number, their insurance company, and an explanation of why the accident happened. Granted, this isn’t a hit and run if the other driver remains behind. But sometimes panic sets in after they realize what they’ve done. If a driver leaves the scene of an accident at any point, it is sometimes still considered a hit and run accident.
Use your phone to take photos of the damage and the license plate on both cars. If possible, get photos that show you were legally parked at the time of the accident.
Look for Witnesses
Even if the driver stays around and seems willing to take the blame for the accident at first, things can change in an instant. Look around to see who else saw the accident and get contact information from them. Ask potential witnesses to stay around and talk to police.
Call the Police
You should always call the police when there is any damage to your vehicle. In addition to making an accident report, they can also question witnesses and acquire access to any security cameras. All these factors matter if you end up filing a claim against the other driver.
Report the Damage to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
If your car was legally parked when another driver struck it, they are totally at fault for the damage. Once you have the information for their insurance company, contact them. Their insurance is responsible for all of the damage to your car.
When the other driver’s insurance company fails to get the process going, you can file a claim with your personal insurance company. It isn’t unusual for insurance companies to try and work out an agreement with the other party so that they pay less. They might even argue that the damage to your vehicle was already there. It’s never a bad idea to talk with an attorney about filing a property damage claim.
If You Didn’t Witness the Accident
Look for Witnesses
If the parking lot is a busy one or nearby businesses offer a good view of the place where your car was parked, it can’t hurt to look for witnesses. If your car was parked there for hours, you might not have a lot of luck. On the other hand, if the accident occurred during the five minutes you went into the dry cleaners’ you might find the witness you need.
Call the Police
You need the police now for the same reason that you do if you witnessed the accident. You need the accident report if filing a claim becomes necessary. Besides, California law requires you to report an accident any time property is damaged.
It’s always in your best interest to try and identify the person who hit your car. Otherwise, you must file a claim on your own insurance. It’s possible this could result in points on your driving record, increases in your premiums, and out-of-pocket costs for the deductible.
When You Hit a Parked Car
It’s an amazing feeling when you hear the sound of metal on metal. You didn’t even realize you were that close or maybe you just didn’t see the car parked there. Whatever the reason, hitting a parked car isn’t a crime. Leaving the scene of the accident is.
Anyone responsible for a hit and run accident in California can be convicted of a misdemeanor. You could spend up to six months in jail or pay a fine of up to $1,000, or both. There are also the points and premium increases on your insurance to worry about.
In California, the law requires drivers who strike parked vehicles to try and find the owner of the vehicle. If money is spent to find you, the fees could come out of your pocket. A fender bender in the parking lot isn’t a big deal. A hit and run is a big deal that costs you a lot.
Call the Police
Again, go on record for your part in the accident. Since you probably have no idea who the car belongs to, the police can run the license plates to get a name. Yes, most states require you to leave a note on the vehicle with your name, address, contact number, and an explanation of what happened. But don’t leave it to chance that the car owner acknowledges your note later.
What if something happens to the note before the owner finds it? Someone could take it or the rain might wipe it clean. The law does require you to leave a note but it should be in addition to calling the police. Leave the note in a conspicuous place and take a photo as proof that you put it there. Also, if you don’t own the car you were driving, leave the information about the owner, too.
Keep It Simple
Limit your conversations with the police, in the note, or when talking with the insurance company to the details of the accident. Don’t include an explanation of what caused you to hit the car. Saying you weren’t paying attention, were reading a text, or that you just got sleepy can come back to bite you later on.
Take Photos of Both Cars
Take photos of both cars where contact was made. Capture even the smallest dings since these can cost hundreds or more to repair. Ideally, if you can see it, you need to make a record of it.
Look for Witnesses
Not only do witnesses know what happened; they also know that you took the steps required by law. Get their contact information. For witnesses who have a lot of details, video their description of what they saw.
Contact Your Insurance Company
When you hit a parked car, you are at fault and responsible for the damages. You need to let your insurance company know immediately after the accident occurs. That’s why you carry liability coverage.
Your insurance also pays for damage to your car but this is where the collision coverage kicks in. You must pay the cost of your deductible out-of-pocket. The insurance will pay the rest.
Don’t Make Any Agreements with the Car Owner
Sometimes drivers don’t want to make a claim to their insurance company regardless of which side of the accident they are on. Some reasons include too many points on their driving record and the risk of higher insurance premiums.
If another driver hits your parked car, don’t give in to their pleas to ‘just let them take care of it’ without their insurance company. Once you miss the opportunity to make your claim, you can end up with no compensation and no rights.
The same is true if you were the one who hit a parked car. It’s better to stay at the scene and follow the laws. Don’t be tempted to accept an offer by the other driver. It might be more a matter of their not having insurance or a valid driver’s license than a way to make things easier for you. Always follow the law and you’re less likely to end up paying a high price for your mistake.
Why You Might Need an Attorney
Hitting a parked car is much less likely to cause personal injuries than a crash between two occupied vehicles. Any time you are injured by a hit-and-run driver, you need to get a personal injury attorney. This is true whether you were parked, on the road, or a pedestrian at the time of impact.
Drivers who flee the scene aren’t likely to ever come forward. In spite of your best efforts, it’s possible you never will find them. That means filing for damages with your insurance company. Your insurance company will want to stick to the limits of your policy even if your medical needs or property damages are much higher. An experienced car accident attorney knows your rights and will help you get the money you need.
Sometimes insurance companies pay for damages from hit and run accidents with uninsured motorist coverage. Others aren’t so agreeable. They argue that since the driver is unknown, there is no way to know if they had insurance or not.
One of the biggest reasons to get a personal injury attorney even if you aren’t injured is to defend your rights. They know the insurance adjuster’s tactics to prevent paying and how to get around them.
Even if you identify the driver, there could be problems getting them to cooperate. Your attorney knows what to do to get the wheels of justice turning.
Reasons People ‘Hit and Run’
Even drivers who have had their license for years sometimes misjudge their distance or speed. Some cases involve distracted driving such as texting or the use of alcohol or drugs. Drivers who engage in illegal behaviors at the time of an accident are probably more likely to run. They are also the ones who shouldn’t be driving on our roads in the first place.
The reasons people run after hitting a car range from embarrassment to fear or indifference! Striking a parked car is especially tempting since they think there is no one there to catch them. Some people are so embarrassed that they hit a parked vehicle that they want to pretend it didn’t happen at all.
One example of how fear causes drivers to flee after an accident is the case of giving undocumented individuals the ability to get a driver’s license in California. After passing the controversial law, hit and runs fell because these individuals no longer feared the consequences. The result was an estimated 4,000 fewer hit and runs during the first year the law was in place.
Any area of the law is complex and that related to hit and run accidents in California is no exception. The most important thing to remember is that it isn’t against the law to have an accident. The choice to run after hitting another car is illegal and punishable by jail time and fines.
Contact Batta Fulkerson if you’ve been involved in a hit and run accident. Learn your rights and get the best possible outcome from your case with the representation of an experienced and successful personal injury law firm.