It is a nightmare scenario that happens all too often. An impaired driver sends a vehicle careening down the street, sideswiping multiple cars in the process. In fact, one TV station recently reported an incident that involved more than three dozen parked vehicles.
Although the law requires that motorists remain at the scene of an accident, many do not. Those that drive off may face charges for leaving the scene. Hit-and-run motorists hit parked cars in parking lots, parking garages, and on the street.
Someone Hit Your Parked Car: A Step-by-step Guide
When someone’s vehicle hits your parked car, follow these steps to help you get the prompt repair you deserve.
1. Call the police
An insurance company often requires a police report when a claim is filed. When in doubt, always call for police assistance. In certain states, non-injury accidents with estimated damage below a certain dollar amount do not require help from law enforcement. However, police involvement often protects your financial interests.
Sometimes, the police dispatcher does not send an officer to the scene. When this happens, you typically have the right to stop in at a local police station to file a report.
Determining liability in parked car accidents is not always as clear-cut as you may think. For example, a post by Fox Business highlighted circumstances when the person who parked the car may shoulder some or all of the blame, particularly when the vehicle is illegally parked.
2. Determine the offender's status
There are four different scenarios that are possible when someone hits your parked car. The other motorist either:
- Remains on the scene
- Leaves the scene and leaves a note
- Leaves the scene, but Is eventually identified
- Leaves the scene and is never identified
Let’s take a closer look at each of these scenarios.
Remains on the scene - Calmly ask the other driver for his/her name, address, phone number and insurance company. If the driver is willing to write down an explanation of the accident, take that as well. It is also helpful to note the year, make and model of the vehicle. Either photograph the license plate number or write it down.
If the offending motorist remains on the scene, remain calm. The driver responsible may be anxious or even fearful of the consequences of their actions. In any case, you don’t want to let emotions escalate to the point that there’s a confrontation.
Leaves the scene and leaves a note - Sometimes, an offending motorist leaves a note with contact information before leaving the scene. However, the driver is supposed to make a reasonable effort to identify the owner of the parked car before doing so. The contact information often helps you to get your repair covered by the driver’s insurer.
Leaves the scene, but is eventually identified - In many jurisdictions, municipal, commercial or private surveillance cameras help law enforcement identify hit-and-run drivers. Once the guilty party is known, it is often possible to get his or her auto insurance to pay for your repair. However, if the offending motorist is not insured, your insurer will typically cover the repair under its provisions for dealing with uninsured motorists.
Leaves the scene and is never identified - There are two ways that your own insurance policy may help when a hit-and-run driver hits your parked car. First, uninsured motorist coverage often pays repair costs when another vehicle hits your car and the driver takes off. Uninsured motorist coverage is required in some states, but not in others. Although your collision coverage can also help, you’ll typically have to pay your deductible. However, drivers that only maintain liability coverage do not have this option.
3. Speak with possible witnesses
When possible, ask witnesses to remain on the scene until the police arrive. It is ideal to call police when there are witnesses because officers have expertise in interviewing witnesses. If the accident does not involve a call to the police, ask witnesses for their names and contact information so officials and insurers can contact them as necessary.
4. Preserve evidence and take photographs
Police know how to preserve physical evidence of a hit-and-run accident. If an officer is not dispatched to the scene, retain any car parts that may be lying loose on the ground. Many motorists carry smartphones with cameras that can be used to quickly document the accident. Be thorough when you are taking pictures. You can never have too many photographs. Think “near and far” as you take your pictures. That is, take more distant shots that help investigators understand the overall scene, and take close-ups of any and all damage to your vehicle.
Take pictures from every angle that makes sense to you, but don’t ever walk out in traffic to do so. Stay safe. Take photos of damage to other vehicles and property. A couple of short video clips often help the authorities and insurers understand the accident scene even better.
5. Contact insurer(s)
Notify your own insurance company without delay when the accident is a hit-and-run. If you have uninsured motorist coverage, it may cover the cost of repairs, less any deductible. Many drivers choose high deductibles to reduce premiums. However, a $500 or $1000 deductible can put a strain on your pocketbook if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident. On the other hand, many individuals find that a $100 or $250 deductible is more manageable.
Sometimes, the victim of hit-and-run damage to their parked car is hesitant to file a claim. However, keep in mind that many insurers will not raise rates when there is an isolated no-fault accident. Insurers tend to treat minor claims differently than major ones. For example, many insurance companies will not raise rates when chargeable losses are under $1,000.
Sometimes, motorists will want to contact both insurance companies. Once you learn who insures the other vehicle, you have a right to file a third-party claim with that company.
On rare occasions, a driver responsible for hitting your parked car may offer to pay you cash to avoid an insurance claim and/or contact with the police. It is almost always unwise to accept such an offer.
Finally, always consider your contractual obligations with your insurer. Auto insurers typically require those they cover to promptly notify them of any and all accidents. Failure to do may have negative consequences. In a worst case scenario, your breach of contract could jeopardize payment of a future claim.