Personal Injury

Parking Lots: Breeding Grounds for Car Accidents

Reviewed by David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

Sometimes it seems that parking lots were practically designed for the occurrence of fender-benders. One group of drivers is preoccupied with looking for a parking spot, while the other is trying to pull out of an often-cramped space. No one is necessarily paying attention to the traffic around them. Then there's the added distraction of people walking through the parking lot (at designated crosswalks and elsewhere) trying to get to the store or restaurant, or headed back to their cars.

Although common, parking lot accidents are usually low-speed collisions. Vehicle damage is typically minimal, and any injuries are probably not very serious. That doesn't mean you should take this kind of car accident lightly, though. Here’s what you need to know about parking lot accidents, and what to do if you’re involved in one.

If You're Involved in a Parking Lot Accident

Any time you’re involved in a traffic accident -- whether it’s in a parking lot or anywhere else -- you need to protect yourself in the moment, and act in your best interests in case an insurance claim or injury lawsuit ends up being filed over the accident later on.

Here are some steps you should take right after the collision:

  • Pull the cars out of the way and into a safe location.

  • If you can't move your car, put on the emergency flashers and exit the car when it’s safe to do so.

  • Immediately phone for medical assistance if anyone is injured.

  • Call the police, especially if there are injuries or extensive property damage.

  • If the parking lot has a private security patrol, notify them of the accident.

  • Call your car insurance company.

  • Take pictures if you can -- of damage to vehicles, location of vehicles, area of the parking lot where the accident occurred, and anything else that provides visual aids to explain what happened.

  • Exchange names, addresses, phone numbers and insurance information with other drivers.

  • Get the names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses who saw what happened.

  • Write down the names of the businesses that share the parking lot, as well as the posted names of any company that manages or owns the lot itself.

  • Note any facts surrounding the incident such as time, date, location, weather conditions and parking lot conditions.

  • Call an attorney if you are injured, if vehicle damage is extensive, or if accusations of fault are getting contentious

If Police or Private Security Officers Come to the Scene

In some areas, the police won't come to the scene of a parking lot accident -- or they may not write up a report if they do come to the scene -- when the accident takes place on private property (most parking lots are privately owned).

Many larger parking lots have private security patrols, and if that’s the case with your parking lot accident, it’s a good idea to notify security of the incident.

No matter who comes to the scene, whether it’s a police officer or a private security officer, you want to get a copy of any accident report or incident report that is generated in connection with the collision. Documentation like this isn’t usually definitive in terms of who caused the accident, but it can provide key details about the accident that will come in handy if any claim is made. (More: How are Police Reports Used in a Car Accident Case?)

Call Your Insurance Company

As soon as possible, notify your insurance company about the parking lot accident, even if you’re convinced that the collision was minor and you think you may not even need to get your car repaired -- and even if the other driver tries to convince you that you don’t need to get your insurance company involved.

First, you’re contractually obligated to notify your insurance company of any incident that could trigger coverage under your policy. Second, if your car is damaged more seriously than you initially thought, or if you start feeling aches and pains that you hadn’t noticed at first, you don’t want to be letting your insurance company know about the accident a week after it happened.

Finally, even though most parking lot collisions are minor, there’s nothing stopping the other driver from contacting your car insurance company and saying you caused an accident that resulted in significant vehicle damage or injuries. If this happens, and the accident itself is news to the insurance company, you could be in hot water for not letting the carrier know about the collision in a timely manner.

Learn more about What to Do After a Car Accident.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • No police report was generated in connection with my parking lot accident. Will this hurt my chances of recovering damages?
  • I discovered my car had been hit while I was in the store. What are my options?
  • My car was damaged because of a deep pothole in the parking lot. How can I prove that the lot owner is at fault?

If you've been involved in a car accident within the last three years, please consider taking our car accident survey so that we can include your experience in Martindale-Nolo's 2018 Car Accident Survey. Your participation will help inform others about their situation and options before dealing with their car accident.

Get Professional Help

Find a Car Accidents lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys

Talk to an attorney

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you