In most cases, it is very easy to determine who is at fault for hitting a parked car. The general rule is that the driver that hits the parked car is at fault for hitting a parked car. The reason the driver is usually at fault is because the car was parked and not moving. So, the parked car cannot move out of the way to avoid the accident. The driver that hits a parked car, on the other hand, usually does have the ability to move out of the way. The driver has a duty to pay attention to the road ahead and see what can be seen. Therefore, the driver usually has the opportunity to see the parked car and avoid it.
Of course, every rule has exceptions. There are so many different possibilities that can occur when you hit a parked car that it is impossible to address everyone of them. But the general principle of comparative negligence can be used in most states to figure out who is at fault if you hit a parked car. This means you compare the actions of the owner of the parked car to the actions of the driver that hit the parked car and assign the responsibility to the one that had the ability to avoid the crash. If both had some ability to avoid the accident, then the law will assign a percentage of responsibility to both. So there might be some circumstances where it is fair to ask the question, “Can a parked car be at fault?”
WHO IS AT FAULT FOR HITTING AN ILLEGALLY PARKED CAR?
Deciding who is at fault if you hit an illegally parked car depends on why the car was parked illegally.
When the Reason it’s Illegal to Park has Nothing to do With Visibility
The general rule still applies in most cases of illegally parked cars that the driver has fault. But sometimes the illegally parked vehicle might also have fault. This will depend on why it is illegal to park in a particular parking spot. When the reason it’s illegal to park in a location has nothing to do with visibility of the car, then parking illegally does not make the owner of the parked car comparatively at fault for the crash. So if you hit a car parked in a fire lane or you hit a double parked car, you, the driver are probably still 100% at fault.
When it is Illegal to Park because of Visibility
But deciding who is at fault when hitting an illegally parked car is less clear when the reason it is illegal to park in a particular location is because it is difficult to see a parked car in that location. The reason is because the owner of the illegally parked car may have comparative fault for the crash. Examples include when a building or other object blocks the view of the parking space or the parking space cannot be seen at night.
Another common example involves a car that parks in front of a driveway and the driver backs out of the driveway and into the vehicle. In most places it is illegal to park on a street in front of a driveway. But the fact the drive was backing up does not mean the driver can’t see the vehicle. So, the driver would still be responsible. On the other hand, if it was dark out and the street was not well lit, the car may be hard to see. This may be a circumstance where the car owner is comparatively negligent. How much responsibility will be assigned to the owner of the parked car depends on how difficult it is to see the illegally parked car.
When it’s Impossible to See the Illegally Parked Vehicle
In some extreme cases, it is so difficult for a driver to see the illegally parked vehicle that the owner of the illegally parked car could be 100% responsible for the crash. For example, let’s say a car stops on the side of the road with part of the car in the lane of travel. Let’s say the location where the car stops is in the middle of a severe curve on the road. Lastly, let’s also say it’s a two lane road at night in the dark, the road has no lighting, and the car turns its lights off. It’s easy to see how a driver may not be able to see the stopped car as the driver rounds the curve in the dark. Under these extreme circumstances, the illegally parked car may be 100% at fault because the owner should be able to anticipate that a driver could not see them.
WHO IS AT FAULT FOR HITTING A PARKED CAR IN A PARKING LOT?
Parking lots are usually privately owned. But that doesn’t really change anything. The same rules apply to accidents in parking lots as apply on the roadways. This means that deciding who is at fault when hitting a parked car in a parking lot will be the same as when hitting a parked car on the roadways. The person or persons that have the opportunity to avoid the parking lot accident will be at fault for the accident. The following are common parking lot accidents:
- Parallel parking;
- Pulling into a parking space;
- Backing out of a parking space; and
- Striking a car with your door when opening it.
In all of these situations, the driver has the opportunity to see the parked car and avoid it, so the driver will most likely be at fault.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU HIT A PARKED CAR?
Hitting a parked car is not a crime. But leaving the scene of an accident is against the law in every state and hitting a parked car is considered an accident. The right thing to do is to notify the owner of what you have done. You may think because the owner of the parked car is not around that it is ok to leave without saying anything. But its not. Furthermore, its not just the owner you have to worry about. There may be witnesses that report you and there may be surveillance cameras that record what you did.
Look for the Owner
In most states you are required to make reasonable efforts to find the owner and notify them of what happened. You may have to walk up and down the street and ask people if they are the owner. If it happened in a parking lot, you may have to go into the businesses in the parking lot to try and find the owner.
Leave a Note for the Owner
If you have looked around and there is no owner in sight don’t just leave. leave a note. The note should contain the following information:
- Contact phone number
- Explanation of the accident
- Your insurance information
Anything you put in the note is evidence that can be used against you. So, make sure the note is short and to the point. Put the note in a conspicuous place. Usually the best place in under a windshield wiper.
Gather Evidence from the Scene
The most important evidence will be photographs of the damage and the license plates. The photos are important to protect you from the owner trying to claim more damage than was actually caused and or claiming a different car was damaged.
Next you will want to see if there are any witnesses to what happened. If so, get their name and phone number as well. If they will let you video or write down their description of what happened.
Report the Accident to Your Car Insurance Company
You may be tempted to skip reporting the accident to your insurance company. The number one reason people do not report these events is to avoid their insurance rates to go up. This may happen if you report it. But the cost of paying for the repairs yourself is usually more than the rate increase. If you fail to report the accident immediately after the event and you try to report it later, you risk the company will not pay for the damage to the other car.