As you're backing up in a parking lot, you accidentally hit a car parked behind you. You get out of your car and see that there's been no serious damage to the vehicle. Are you free to leave?
The answer is no. Leaving the auto accident scene is against the law in every state.
Read on to find out how hitting a parked car can turn into a hit-and-run accident and why you need a personal injury lawyer if you have suffered damages.
Types of Hit-and-Run Accidents
Generally, a hit-and-run accident is one in which you leave the scene of an accident before having fulfilled the duties imposed by law, such as:
- Rendering aid
- Exchanging driver's licenses
Be mindful of your state traffic laws. Your state may impose fines, penalties, and even jail time if you leave the accident scene without making an effort to fulfill your duties.
There are two types of hit-and-run accidents:
- When you hit a car and speed off
- When you hit an unattended parked car and leave no information
It's still a hit-and-run accident if you hit an unattended parked car and fail to provide your information.
Legal Duties After Hitting a Parked Car
If you hit an unattended parked car, you should first check if anyone is injured. If so, call for medical help immediately. Next, make a reasonable effort to identify the owner of the vehicle and notify them about what happened. If you're unable to find the owner of the vehicle, leave a written notice of the following information:
- Your name and contact information
- The model and make of your car
- Your license plate number
Some state laws require you to file a police report, even if you have left your information with the owner of the vehicle.
How Do I Deal With Property Damage and Insurance Information?
When hitting a parked car, even if the damage seems minor, you are dealing with someone else's property. Therefore, assess the damage accurately and document it for the insurance claim process. Take pictures of the damage to both cars. In your written note left for the other car's owner, include your insurance information along with your personal details. If your car was damaged and you have collision coverage, your insurance company may cover the costs, less your deductible.
Misdemeanors and Criminal Charges
If you leave the scene of an accident without providing appropriate information or filing a report, you may face criminal charges. Hitting a parked car and not leaving a note can be classified as a misdemeanor.
Here are some potential consequences for this kind of misdemeanor:
- Fines: Fines can vary greatly based on the severity of the accident. For minor accidents, fines can be a few hundred dollars but could escalate to several thousand dollars for more serious incidents.
- Probation: A judge may sentence you to a probation period. During this time, you're required to comply with certain conditions, such as meeting with a probation officer regularly, maintaining employment, not committing any more crimes, and potentially attending driving classes.
- Community service: Depending on the circumstances, a judge may require you to perform community service as part of your sentence.
- Imprisonment: In more severe cases, or if it's not your first offense, you could face jail time. This is less likely for minor accidents but still a possibility.
- Points on your driver's license: A hit-and-run accident will add points to your driver's license, which can lead to increased insurance rates and potential suspension of your driving privileges if you accumulate too many.
- Insurance consequences: Beyond legal penalties, your car insurance rates are likely to increase significantly after a hit-and-run incident. In severe cases, your insurance company might even choose not to renew your policy.
Insurance Claims and the At-Fault Driver
If you're the at-fault driver in a collision, your car insurance is typically responsible for covering the cost of damages, as specified by your insurance policy. But if you leave the scene without providing your information, the other driver's insurance company may not be able to file a claim against your insurance carrier, leading to more complications and potential legal consequences.
- Insurance Issues: Failing to report an accident to your insurance company may violate the terms of your policy, potentially leading to the denial of coverage for the accident. This could leave you personally liable for all damages. It can also lead to increased insurance premiums or even cancellation of your policy in severe cases.
- Civil lawsuits: The owner of the parked car could potentially sue you for damages. If you're identified later (for example, through surveillance footage), you could be held liable for not only the damage to the vehicle but also any additional costs incurred by the other party, such as rental car costs.
- Employment consequences: If your job involves driving, a hit-and-run charge could lead to loss of employment. Even for non-driving jobs, employers might see this charge as a character issue, which could impact your employment prospects in the future.
- Restitution: In some jurisdictions, the court may order you to pay restitution to the victim. This is a payment designed to compensate the victim for any out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident that weren't covered by insurance.
Contacting Your Own Insurance Company
Even if the damage to the other car is minor, it's wise to contact your own insurance company and inform them about the incident. This will help you in case the other party decides to file a claim. Providing your insurer with an early heads-up can help speed up the claims process. It may also protect you if the other party's claim is larger than initially expected.
Dealing With a Hit-and-Run Driver
If you're the victim of a hit-and-run, and the at-fault driver can't be identified or won't exchange information, contact your insurance provider. Depending on your insurance coverage, you may be protected against hit-and-run drivers. Having comprehensive coverage or uninsured motorist coverage can help cover the costs associated with a hit-and-run incident.
Medical Treatment Following an Accident
Even though hitting a parked car doesn't result in personal injuries in most cases, if there were passengers in your motor vehicle and they were injured, they should seek medical treatment immediately. Document all treatment, as this information might be needed for potential insurance claims.
Involving Law Enforcement
After a collision with a parked vehicle, it's important to involve law enforcement by filing an accident report. Law enforcement can provide an unbiased account of the incident, which may be helpful when dealing with your insurance company or if legal issues arise.
Things to Do Before Leaving the Scene of an Accident
To protect yourself and avoid a potential lawsuit, you should follow the steps below to preserve evidence and collect accurate information about the car crash.
- Record the time and location: Before leaving the accident scene, write down the time and exact location of the accident for your record.
- Call the police department: The police will help you file a police report. Police reports will contain important information about the vehicles, all parties involved, and accident details.
- Take accident photos or videos: Get multiple photos of the accident scene, including general views and a close-up of the cars. Look for any security cameras that may have caught the accident on video. Request a copy of the footage from the business owner who owns the camera. This will help the insurance company to determine the damages accurately. Accident scenes are often easily altered. You don't want to be responsible for any damage you didn't cause.
- Talk to any witnesses: If anyone witnessed the accident, talk to them, and get details of what they saw and their contact information.
- Notify your insurance company: It would be beneficial to let your insurance company know what happened as soon as possible so that it can expedite the claims process.
Get Legal Advice From a Car Accident Attorney
Legal consequences will follow if you fail to leave a note or file a police report after hitting a parked car. If you have hit a parked car and have questions about your responsibilities, consider consulting with a local car accident lawyer. A personal injury attorney can explain your legal options and advise you on how to proceed.