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You Just Hit a Parked Car? Don’t Drive Away, Do This

hit and run carIt’s a sound no one wants to hear, the “thump” when you accidentally bump your car into a vehicle parked along the street or in a crowded parking lot. But what happens after that “thump?”

If the owner of the vehicle is in the car or nearby, you and that owner exchange contact and insurance information. You should also call the local police. That’s simple. But what if the owner of the vehicle is no one to be found? That’s when things can get complicated.

But what you shouldn’t do is drive away. Fleeing the scene of an accident, even a minor bump with a parked car, could net you financial and legal pain.

Resist the urge to drive away. Instead, write a note explaining what happened and including your contact information. Then notify your local police department.

Randolph Rice, an attorney and owner of the Law Offices of Randolph Rice in Baltimore, said that every state has some requirement for drivers who are involved in an accident with an unattended or parked vehicle. Your job as a motorist is to know these requirements and act accordingly.

Rice points to his home state of Maryland. Here, drivers are required to notify the owner of the parked car of the accident.

“This can be difficult if there is no one around to notify,” Rice said.

So what happens if you hit a parked car and no one else is around? Rice says that motorists must leave contact information with the vehicle they hit, perhaps by taping a note to the car’s window or tucking it securely under its windshield. Rice recommends including your name, phone number and email address in the note.

He also advises drivers to take a photo of the damage to the other car and a photo of the note they leave behind. The picture of the damage could protect you if the owner of the other car wants to charge you too much for repairs. The photo of the note is proof that you complied with the law, Rice said.

No note could lead to criminal charges

If you hit a parked car and don’t leave your contact information, you could be charged with a traffic offense or misdemeanor criminal offense, Rice said. If you’re found guilty of failing to remain at the scene of an accident involving a parked car in Maryland, you could face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, Rice said.

You might also be required to report the accident to local police, depending on where you live. Glenn Kurtzrock, an attorney in Hauppauge, New York, said that in New York state leaving the scene of an accident in which there is property damage is punishable by up to 15 days in jail. The law here requires that after an accident drivers stop and show their license or identification and provide insurance information and their address.

Kurtzrock said that if the owner of the damaged car is not on the scene, drivers must report the accident as soon as possible to the nearest police station. Kurtzrock also recommends, as does Rice, that drivers leave a note with their contact information with the damaged car.

“Not only is it the right thing to do, but you are opening yourself up to civil and even criminal penalties if you leave without identifying yourself,” Kurtzrock said.

Jesse Cunningham, owner of Mountain View Insurance Solutions in Bel Air, Maryland, said that you should always contact the local police if the owner of the other car is not on the scene, even if the damage to the other vehicle is minimal.

“If you hit a parked car, then you need to treat it as a car accident, because that is what it is,” Cunningham said.

Police officers may not respond to accident

police car lightsReporting the accident to the police might not always result in officers arriving on the scene, said David Reischer, attorney and chief operating officer of New York City-based That’s because police officers might not respond to such accidents unless there are serious injuries or a threat to public safety.

“Most parking lot accidents involve only minor injuries and property damages,” Reischer said. “These types of accidents occur frequently and pose little danger to public safety.”

Because the police are often not involved, it’s important for you to take photos of the damage to the other vehicle Reischer said. There might not be any police reports recording this information.

Once you contact your local police department, the officers there will be able to guide you through the next steps. And once the owner of the car contacts you, you can decide whether you’ll pay for the damage to the car out of your own pocket or whether you’ll file a claim with your insurance provider.

This will depend on a variety of factors, including the cost of the repairs and your insurance policy’s deductible, the amount you’ll have to pay first before your insurance coverage kicks in. Say the damage to the vehicle you hit will cost $2,000 to repair and you have a deductible of $500. You’d have to pay $500 before your insurance provider pays the remaining $1,500.

Sometimes, you decide not to file an insurance claim when you hit a parked car, choosing instead to pay for the repairs yourself. This can be a positive: Filing a claim usually causes your auto insurance premium to rise. By setting on a price with the owner of the parked car and paying for this with cash or check, you can avoid this premium hit.

Just make sure you’re satisfied with the price. Make sure the owner of the car provides a written estimate from a mechanic for how much the repair will cost.

Kevin Foley, owner of PFT&K Insurance Brokers in Freehold, New Jersey, once took this option. Years ago, Foley was driving out of the parking lot at his local library when he bumped the car parked to his right. It was not, Foley said, a little ding.

Foley pulled back into his parking spot, surveyed the damage and called his local police department on his cell phone. He then went into the library and asked the front desk to page the owner of the car he hit. A high schooler working in the library was driving the car, which was owned by her father.

The police showed up and interviewed both Foley and the student who was driving the car, taking their license and insurance information. Foley gave the driver his phone number and asked her to have her dad call him. The father did, and he and Foley settled on $500 to cover the damage instead of filing an insurance claim.

Eventually, the father sent a check for $100 back to Foley with a note saying how impressed he was with Foley’s honesty.

Of course, that won’t always happen. And there will be times when filing an insurance claim is the right choice, usually depending on the severity of the damage done to the parked car and the price of repairing it.

But whatever you do, never flee the scene of a fender bender, no matter how minor. It could result in bigger headaches in the future.