There’s no worse feeling than realizing you’ve accidentally hit someone else’s car in the parking lot. Especially if you hate confrontation!
It’s all too easy to panic and drive away without getting out of the car. As tempting as this is to do in a crisis - you’ll only want to get away from your mistake as quickly as possible, of course - you could actually be breaking the law.
So what should you do if you hit a parked car? And what exactly happens if you do hit a car in a parking lot and leave?
Breaking the law
Running away from the scene of the accident is actually a criminal offense. Depending on which state you live in, a hit and run could be punishable with fines, license points, jail time, or even a combination of all three.
Different states will have different requirements in terms of what you should do after an accident, but you shouldn’t be complacent enough to think that you’ll be able to get away with leaving the scene of the crime.
The police will be able to track you down using CCTV or even witness accounts, so it’s best to be brave and try to tackle the issue as soon as possible. It can be scary having to deal with the consequences of an accident, but it’s important to remember to do the right thing so that you don’t have to suffer any potential jail time.
It’s a legal requirement for you to remain at the scene of a crime and make a reasonable effort to contact the other driver. Failing to remain at the scene of the accident or dealing with the mistake in a mature manner could also result in higher insurance premiums or some insurers could even refuse to cover you in the future.
Try and find the other driver
It’s important not to panic if you have hit someone else’s vehicle. Remain as calm as possible. You should get out of the car if it’s safe to do so, and try and locate the other driver.
If you’ve hit a parked car, chances are that the driver won’t be nearby. If this is the case, it can be tricky trying to track them down to explain what’s happened and exchange information.
If you can’t find the other driver of the vehicle you’ve accidentally hit, you should leave your information on a note and pin this under the wiper blade. You should try and keep the contents of the note as simple as possible and not write anything incriminating that paints you in a bad light. Avoid apologizing for ruining the car or saying you’re a bad driver.
All the information you need to leave is your contact information, such as your name, address, phone number, and give them a brief explanation of what happened. If the parking lot is in the open air, you might want to leave the note in a plastic bag to protect it from rain.
The driver should then get in contact with you and your insurer should be able to help you deal with a claim. It’s important to remember that the statute of limitations means that a driver has up to 2 or 3 years to make a claim against you, so it’s important to keep hold of any evidence over this time, even if you never hear from them immediately after the accident.
If you panicked and left the scene of the crime, you should try your best to head back there to try and locate the driver. If the car is no longer there when you return, you should contact the police as well as an attorney.
No matter if you can or can’t find the other driver, you should always document evidence of the accident, regardless of the damage caused.
Take as many photos and videos as you can to document exactly what happened and to make a note of the extent of the damage. This will be important as it can safeguard you from the other driver claiming you caused more damage than you did.
It will also be worth trying to talk to witnesses in the surrounding area. This can serve two purposes; it can help you to locate the other driver if you haven’t found them already, and it can also help to affirm your versions of events.
It can help to paint you in a good light with witnesses, as you are actively trying to do the right thing, even if it is intimidating talking to strangers about what happened.
Reporting an accident to the police
This may be the last thing you want to do and can be particularly scary if you’re worried about any potential legal consequences of the accident, however, it’s important that you report the incident to the police.
Some states have laws that mean you have a legal requirement to report any accident to law enforcement. States like California and Florida require you to do this, as well as leave your information with them.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that some states like New York even require you to notify the police if you haven’t been able to exchange information with the other driver, too.
If you fail to report an accident to the police that involves an injury, the potential consequences are severe. You could be charged with a felony and end up in worse trouble. States such as Illinois will charge a felony if you flee an accident and fail to report an injury within 30 minutes, so it’s worth trying to do the right thing.
You should also contact your insurance company to let them know if an accident has taken place. Even though it can be intimidating, you have a legal responsibility to let them know if an accident has taken place. This helps to protect both you and the insurance company if you let them know as soon as possible what happened.
Consult an attorney
While this isn’t legally required, if you’ve accidentally hit another vehicle, it will be helpful to contact an attorney. They can help you to minimize your liability should the other driver make a claim against you, and they can also help you to navigate a claim.
An attorney will be better able to navigate all the legal jargon and should be able to help you come out the other end without having to deal with as severe consequences as you have to if dealing with the situation on your own.
Don’t beat yourself up about it, we all make mistakes. The only thing you can do is try and do the right thing afterward.
Try and remain at the scene of the accident if it’s safe to do so, and try to locate the other driver so that you can resolve the situation. Always try and document any evidence of the damage. If you can’t find the other driver, leave a note with your information under their wiper blade.
You should then contact your police department to inform them of the accident and contact an attorney if you have to deal with the other driver’s insurance company. It’s also important to remember that a driver has up to 2 or 3 years to contact you about the accident, depending on their state.
Ultimately, it’s important not to panic! As long as you do the right thing, the situation should be resolved fairly quickly.