What to Do When You Have a Parking Lot Accident

A parking lot accident can be costly, so here is a guide to what to do and what not to do if it happens to you.
Written by James Ellaby
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Parking lot accidents can be costly, but even more so if you don’t do the right things in the immediate aftermath. Here’s our guide to what you do need to do.
Accidents happen—and a lot of them seem to happen in parking lots even though most of the cars there aren’t even moving. 
According to the National Safety Council, 1 in 5 car accidents occurs in parking lots. As many as two-thirds of those incidents occur because drivers are distracted—mostly by their phones.
Whether it's a fender-bender, your child slamming a car door open against another vehicle (it happens to the best of us), or a full-on collision, what do you do if you end up involved in a parking lot accident
Do you need to involve the police? How do you decide who is at fault? Does it matter? Should you ever leave the scene and hope no one will notice that big dent? It’s a minefield and makes
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Determining fault after a parking lot accident

Famous philosopher Snoopy once said: “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you place the blame.” Of course, when it comes to parking lot accidents, it does matter financially if you win or lose—and a huge part of it comes down to placing the blame.
After any car accident, the various insurance companies need to find out who was at fault, and in parking lot accidents, this can sometimes be very simple. 
If your car is innocently sitting there while you’re in the shopping mall, and someone crashes into it while trying to park, it’s almost certainly their fault. But even in this situation, it could depend on how you have parked. 
Is it parked entirely within a bay or sticking over into theirs because you were in a rush? Or were you in such a hurry that you didn’t even park in an authorized bay and just hoped the parking attendant wouldn’t notice? In these situations, the fault might be more complicated to work out.

Why fault matters

Insurance companies determine whether and how much they’ll pay for damages and injuries based on who is found at fault. Of course,
if you’re not insured, you’d be paying for it yourself
If your policy is liability-only, your insurers will only pay for the damages you’re liable for—i.e., the other driver’s damages. Anything that needs repairing on your vehicle must come out of your pocket.
Key Takeaway: Determining fault for a parking lot accident decides whose insurance pays out.

Injury and compensation claims

What if, instead of hitting a parked car, your parking lot accident involves a pedestrian or cyclist, and they suffer injuries as a result? This can leave you liable for medical bills, lost income, and any physical or mental pain and suffering caused by the accident.
They may well be covered in an insurance settlement, but it could also involve a lawsuit. If that happens and you are found to be at fault, you could be ordered to pay damages.

Whose fault is it?

Each parking lot accident is unique in some ways, but there are some general rules for working out who is at fault. Here are some common situations and how they tend to be worked out: 
Rear-end accidents
No matter where a rear-end accident happens, the fault usually lies with the tailing driver. This is why it’s so important to keep a safe distance from vehicles in front of you—even if they stop suddenly, the onus is on you to not crash into them. 
If you are too close when they stop unexpectedly and you rear-end them, you will almost always be found to be negligent and at fault.

Right of way rules

Most parking lots have right-of-way rules designed to keep traffic flowing and make it clear who has the right-of-way at junctions—these impact who is at fault for collisions. If you pull into a through lane and collide with a vehicle driving down that lane, you will normally be found to be at fault.
The same applies if you try to turn into a parking spot by turning left and you collide with a vehicle coming down the parking lane from the opposite direction. You would be found to have failed to observe the right-of-way rules and be at fault for the collision.

Pulling into/out of parking spots

One of the most difficult situations for determining fault is when two cars on opposite sides of a parking lane are both reversing and have a fender bender. Under negligence rules, both drivers must be sure it’s safe to reverse before starting to move
This means that normally the driver who started to reverse second will be found at fault. However, there will need to be evidence—like CCTV cameras—to prove who started backing out first.

What to do when you hit another car in the parking lot

Nobody wants to experience that sickening moment when you realize you’ve hit another vehicle in a parking lot, although it's all too common. But it’s what you do next that matters most.
 First of all, don’t just drive away, no matter how much your self-preservation instincts tell you to. Even if the accident seems minor, if you’ve been seen by someone else or caught on camera, you could be charged with a hit and run
Instead, you need to try and find the owner of the other vehicle. If you’re in a store parking lot, take note of their license plate and ask the customer service desk to make an announcement asking the driver to come to the desk.
If you can’t locate them, leave a note for them in a secure place where they will find it. This should include your name, phone number, and description of what has happened. 
Before you leave, take a photo of the damage caused and write down the other vehicle’s license plate.
MORE: How to check if a car has been in an accident

Should you call the police?

If the damage to the other vehicle is serious enough, you may decide to call the police and get them involved. This might sound like the last thing you want to do—who calls the police on themselves?—but they can document the accident and will have more resources to help find the other driver.
Key Takeaway: Never leave the scene of an accident before giving the other driver your details and collecting your own evidence.

What to do when someone hits your car in the parking lot

If you’re the victim of a parking lot accident, it’s important to gather as much evidence as possible to document the damage and try to prove that you weren’t at fault. Take photos with your phone and get as much information as you can from the other driver if they are there.
Contact your insurer as soon as possible. They can advise you on the next steps you need to take.
MORE: Should I report a car accident to my insurance company?

What to do if you witness a parking lot accident

Even if you aren’t actively involved in a parking lot accident, you may still have an important role to play in it. If you’ve witnessed an accident, first see if anyone involved needs help or medical assistance. Then, you can help the victim if the offending driver has fled the scene. 
For instance, you might help them document the evidence, then give them your contact details in case the insurers or police need to get in touch with you for more information.

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There can be many factors that determine fault in a parking lot accident. However, if you are the driver that collides with another and have gone against the right-of-way rules or you have rear-ended them, the fault will normally lie with you.
You can be charged for an accident in a parking lot if you leave the scene. This is why it’s so important to either try to track down the driver of the other car, leave a note with your contact information, or call the police if the damage is serious enough.
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