Have you been hit in a parking lot? Certainly the most devastating of these collisions are when a pedestrian walking along the cars is hit. Even when a car moves relatively slowly, a walking person often cannot react fast enough to avoid a car that suddenly begins backing up or accelerating. With today’s cars being quiet as ever, they are commonly not noticed until it is too late. Injuries from vehicle accidents in parking lots also happen, but typically the reason someone is hurt is that a person in the car that is stuck is not forward-facing when the impact occurred. We hear over and over that being twisted during an impact makes your neck and back far more exposed to being injured.
So who is at fault if you get hit by a car backing out of a spot or putting their car in the wrong gear? What do you do next? Do you need to worry right away? How long should you wait before getting checked out by a doctor? Should you run it through your health insurance? We have your answers.
What to do after being hit in a parking lot
First, take a deep breath. Now start collecting your evidence.
Collect pictures and videos
We all know to take pictures following a parking lot accident. It has been the go-to recommendation for decades, going back to keeping a disposable camera in your car just in case. Almost everyone has a camera on their cell phone, but people still forget to take pictures and videos before the cars are moved. By taking pictures and video, if the other driver changes the story of how it happened, you will be able to prove your case.
Pictures are some of your best evidence. Since most parking lots are on private property, the police may not respond or may refuse to write a report. You need to document everything. Take photos of the lane or spot you were in. Get reference points in the background of the photo since parking lots can all look the same. Take photos of how close other cars were to you. Snap several shots from varying angles and distances, so you can clearly demonstrate to a third party what the scene looked like in the moments after impact. It is also a good idea to email the photos to yourself or someone you can trust, so they are saved on a server and not just your phone. You think you will remember all the details, but why take the chance when you can prove it with a few photos. Do not just take pictures of the cars; take pictures of everything so your memory isn’t on trial when the other driver should be.
Get witness information
Witnesses always seem to be in a hurry in a parking lot. Often they just want to get home and not get involved. Immediately ask them for contact information so they can leave. If you can’t, take a picture of their license plate so we can track them down later. If this crash happened on a street, witnesses may be listed on the police report to refer back to, but with a parking lot accident, there is often no police or report. This means you have to go and get names and contact info for everyone who might have seen what happened.
Talk to everyone at the scene and find out what they saw. Don’t assume that everyone saw the same thing you did. While you’re getting their contact information, ask them to tell you what they saw and make a physical note of it.
Exchange Contact Information
Write down the insurance and contact information of the other driver(s) involved. Be sure when you do collect these details that you are able to refer to the correct driver. The problem with copying down information from the insurance card alone is that the driver of the car may not be the owner of the car or of the insurance policy. The car could have been borrowed by a son, brother, girlfriend, or someone else. You must be able to direct your insurance company or attorney to the correct person, so ask to see a driver’s license as well.
Locate security cameras
Many businesses, and even some homes, have some kind of security camera or equipment that may have witnessed your accident. These videos show exactly what happened, sometimes in color. However, many businesses won’t just give you a copy. This is another reason why it is important to consult with an attorney immediately after your accident. These videos won’t be kept for long, maybe a couple of days or a week before they are overwritten. If you wait to see how you feel in a couple of weeks before contacting an attorney, those videos may already be gone. Those need to be found and preserved right away.
What we use when necessary are either “spoliation letters” or every once in a while, a “Pure Bill of Discovery” where we use the Court to obtain a video before a suit is even filed. Keep in mind that probably 99% of attorneys in the country won’t even know what a Pure Bill of Discovery is without looking it up. If you want to have some fun, call an attorney and ask them.
Why bother getting all this evidence for my parking lot accident?
The sad truth is that people aren’t always honest about accidents, or they may just not remember things the same way as you. While you may have had the right of way, the car that backed into you might claim you were speeding, but if there is a surveillance tape it will show you weren’t. They could claim you were on your phone or that they weren’t the driver. There is often no police report to show otherwise, but witnesses can attest to what actually happened. The other driver almost always claims that the damage was not that bad. But you will have pictures of the cars and damage to prove how bad it was.
The bottom line is that we don’t live in a perfect world, and some bad people lie to try to make an accident your fault when it wasn’t. Your attorney can only do so much when there is no evidence. Take the time to document everything right away to ensure a solid foundation for your parking lot accident case.
Should I seek treatment after a parking lot accident?
While most parking lot accidents are not major events causing injury, some are. Don’t talk yourself out of seeking medical treatment if you are in pain. Listen to yourself. When we think about debilitating accidents, we usually think about getting rear-ended at a high speed. Speed is what most people think is the main factor that determines how injured you might be. However, even in a parking lot accident, your body may have been in a position that it was not designed to take an impact from, and even a low-speed impact may cause a serious injury. Your body involuntarily often tenses up causing things to be worse. The impact is now taken with your back under tension and twisted.
Even seemingly less severe injuries can lead to chronic pain. Listen to your body and if you are in pain, seek medical attention right away. In Florida, you have 14 days from the accident to seek medical attention in order to have your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance help cover medical expenses.
Who pays my accident bills?
Just like any automobile accident, your own car PIP insurance will pick up some of the bills. That said, it only pays 80% of the medical bills and there is usually only $10,000 of it, so you may still need to make a claim against the at-fault driver’s BI (Bodily Injury) insurance coverage to cover your full costs. Keep in mind that while traditional health insurance may help with some of your bills, the carrier will severely limit who you see and how much treatment you get. Your rates may rise, and, if you go that route, you will still owe deductibles & copays and you will not be able to get reimbursed for pain, suffering, or lost wages without a very rare insurance policy.
General rules on who is at fault for the many common parking lot accidents
Even though the police may not respond, or may decline to write a report, if the accident results in apparent damages exceeding $500, or injury or death, then you are required to report the accident immediately by the quickest means of communications to the local police department. Florida Statute 316.065(1).
- Two drivers back out at the same time – Unless clear evidence of negligence on the part of one driver is present, it is likely that fault will be shared by both drivers. This is because both cars were moving so both drivers are responsible for looking before backing out. If the vehicles pull out starting at different times, the vehicle that begins backing out first has the right of way.
- A driver pulls out of a parking space into traffic, or backs out of a parking space into an oncoming vehicle – When a driver pulls out of a parking space into traffic, forward or backwards, the driver in the lane of traffic has the right of way, making it likely that the driver pulling out of the space will be held liable.
- Two cars attempt to pull into the same parking space – In this scenario, fault will be determined based on which driver had the right of way. Similar to a roadway, a driver making a turn into oncoming traffic must yield to oncoming cars. Therefore, the driver turning left will likely be held at majority fault for the accident. However, this can vary. For example, if the car turning right made a wide right turn into oncoming traffic.
Consult with an attorney after a parking lot accident
No two accidents are alike, but every one is traumatic. While a parking lot crash can be relatively minor, it can also be catastrophic. If you have been hurt and it isn’t your fault, call a qualified personal injury attorney right away.