By Aaron Crowe
Driving through a parking lot can feel almost as stressful as driving on a busy freeway. With cars backing out of parking spaces and people walking through with their attention on their phones, even the slowest driver needs to be extra wary.
Parking lot accidents are common, with about 20 percent of all auto accidents taking place in parking lots. Serious damage to your car is unlikely, though you could develop physical injuries such as whiplash days later.
Since the damage is often minor, both drivers may be inclined to not report it to police or their insurance companies. That can be a mistake for many reasons. Here are some steps to take after you’ve been in a parking lot accident:
- Everyone OK?
Injuries from parking lot accidents are uncommon, but the first thing to do is check that you and the other driver aren’t injured, says Will Smith, a personal injury attorney in Atlanta who has represented clients involved in parking lot crashes.
“Because they’re going so slow a lot of times, they’re not injured,” Smith says. “But it happens.”
If you’ve been injured or feel pain, you should seek prompt treatment. Call an ambulance if needed. Your adrenaline may prevent you from feeling symptoms of certain injuries such as whiplash, Smith says, so it could be worthwhile to go to your medical provider and get checked out.
“Seemingly minor accidents can turn into major health issues,” says Cade Parian, a personal injury attorney in Atlanta.
- Don’t argue
Anger and frustration are common after an accident, but don’t argue with the other driver over whose fault it is. It can lead to a physical fight, which no one wants, or at the least to someone saying something they’ll regret — such as being at fault.
- Gather information
Just as you would in any other auto accident, you’ll need to exchange names, addresses, phone numbers and insurance information after a parking lot accident — even if you consider it a small accident that won’t need repairs.
It may be too early to tell if your car has been damaged. There may be internal damage that isn’t apparent yet, or you may be too shaken up to notice it.
Having this information will help your insurance adjuster work on your behalf. Either call your insurance company from the scene or wait until you get home.
You should also get contact information from witnesses, if there are any, and take photos with your phone of the scene and the other car, including its license plate, Parian says.
- Call the police
Parking lot accidents generally occur on private property, so police may not issue a citation to the offending driver, Smith says. Police may not even respond to such an accident unless someone is injured, and they may not issue a police report.
Still, it’s worthwhile to call police after a parking lot accident, because they may come out and file a report, Smith says. A police report can be a tremendous help to your insurance company.
In Georgia, drivers can ask police to prepare a “Georgia Uniform Motor Vehicle Private Property Accident Report,” Smith says. The document will record pertinent information about the accident and will be useful later to insurance companies.
Even if neither car is damaged and both parties are uninjured, filing a police report can help if either side claims injuries months later.
“Your insurance company is going to rely a lot on what that responding officer reports,” Parian says.
- Call your insurer
We mentioned this earlier, but after these initial steps have been taken, it’s time to call your insurer and let them know you’ve been involved in an accident — no matter how small.
Almost all insurance policies require that the insured report accidents. It’s part of your contract with your insurer to cooperate with them. Without it, you could lose coverage.
If you’re at fault in the accident, you’ll have to pay your deductible and you’ll be assigned points, which will cause your insurance rates to rise.
However, a minor accident in a parking lot may be one of the few times when it’s worthwhile not to file a claim. You could pay for the damage yourself if the repairs cost less than the deductible.
Backing up out of a parking space is the most common parking lot accident, Smith says. If you backed your car into another car, you’ll probably be found at fault.
Some parking lot accidents could come down to your word against the other driver, when insurance companies could split the fault in half. Each person would pay their deductible and no points would be assigned.
- Contact an attorney
This is an optional step, but one you may need if you’re injured and the at-fault driver’s insurance company won’t pay for your medical care.
Contacting an attorney quickly is important to help document the accident, Smith says. For example, a business may not give you videotapes of the parking lot accident, but an attorney can subpoena the camera evidence for a lawsuit, he says.
A lawyer may also be needed to help determine if the property owner is at fault by not having good signage, striping or room for cars to park safely, Smith says.
A parking lot accident shouldn’t be a time to panic. The damage to your car will probably be minor, and hopefully no one is injured. These steps should help make the situation a little easier to deal with, allowing both drivers to return to the search for the best parking spot.