If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been involved in a parking lot accident. And you’re not alone. A 2003 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 14 percent of all car crashes occur in parking lots.
But it’s one thing to know how frequently parking lot accidents happen, and quite another to know how to handle it.
How to Handle a Parking Lot Accident
- Make sure everyone is safe.
- Call the police.
- Don’t rush away from the accident scene.
- Gather information.
- Look for cameras.
- Weigh your options.
Attorneys offer the following tips for handling a fender bender or a parking lot accident.
1. Make sure everyone is safe.
Before anything else, check to see if passengers in all cars involved are safe, as well as any pedestrians or bicyclists, says Brad Biren, a personal injury attorney in Des Moines, Iowa.
If someone needs medical attention for a serious injury, call 911 right away. If the injury is less severe, at least have it checked out in an emergency room or urgent care clinic. Medical records can help support your case if you end up suing the other driver or drivers.
2. Call the police.
The police might not respond to the scene of the parking lot accident, but it never hurts to contact them, as this “establishes a timeline and shows you took proactive measures to handle the situation,” says personal injury attorney Chris Johnston, who practices in Minneapolis and Des Moines, Iowa.
New York City attorney David Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com, says police often won’t show up at the scene of a parking lot accident unless someone has been seriously injured or public safety is jeopardized.
“Most parking lot accidents involve only minor injuries and property damage. And these types of accidents occur frequently and pose little danger to public safety,” according to Reischer.
3. Don’t rush away from the accident scene.
Remaining on the scene to gather as much information as possible will help when you file an insurance claim. Plus, leaving the scene could result in being charged with a traffic crime, says Randolph Rice, an accident attorney in Maryland.
4. Gather information.
At the accident scene, collect all of the pertinent information you can from the other driver or drivers. Try to get their:
- driver’s license number
- phone number
- insurance name and policy number
Traffic attorney Matt Pinsker, an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University, says that if you hit an unoccupied vehicle in a parking lot, then you should leave a note providing your contact information.
Aside from those steps, be sure to take photos of the accident scene, damage to cars and any injuries sustained, says Christopher Earley, an accident attorney in Boston.
“Frequently, parking lot accidents occur at slow speeds, so property damage is often minimal. Therefore, it can be very helpful to show the damage to all vehicles as opposed to just one,” Johnston says.
In addition, take down contact information for anyone who witnessed the accident.
“Witness statements from an accident can be extremely helpful in determining whether a car was traveling too fast in a lot,” Reischer says. “Proving a driver’s negligence can be challenging when the cause of an accident has multiple factors or there isn’t a police report.”
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5. Look for cameras.
If the accident occurred at a public place, such as a shopping center or an office tower, it’s likely that the building or businesses in that building have security cameras. If you do spot a camera, take note of its location. Video footage from security cameras can be helpful if you wind up going to court over the accident, Rice says.
George Sink, Jr., a personal injury attorney in South Carolina, recommends acting quickly to make sure the security footage is preserved and not erased after just a few days or weeks, as is common practice with many businesses.
6. Weigh your options.
After an accident, a motorist typically files an insurance claim if their car was damaged or someone got hurt. That’s something a policyholder can do on their own.
Not surprisingly, attorneys generally recommend contacting an attorney before you file a claim. But that might not be the wisest move for everyone.
“When liability is unclear or there is a dispute about who is responsible, legal representation should be considered,” legal website HG.org advises.
If you caused the accident, your insurance company will defend you in court. That’s one of the benefits included in your policy.
Marc Futterweit, a personal injury attorney in New Jersey, says that if you suspect your insurance settlement will be $1,000 or less, it’s not worth it financially to hire an attorney. Also, you probably don’t need an attorney if the claim process with your insurance company has been smooth, he says.
But if you’re expecting a heftier settlement or you run into problems during the claim process, an attorney can help you, Futterweit says. Furthermore, if the accident caused death or serious injuries or resulted in criminal charges, it’s best to hire an attorney.
If you do hire an attorney, your car insurance company will stop communicating with you and communicate solely with your lawyer.