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When you think of where motor vehicle accidents are most likely to occur, what do you imagine? An interstate? A busy downtown street?
It might surprise you to know that 20 percent of all car accidents occur in parking lots, amounting to around 50,000 accidents per year and resulting in thousands of injuries and deaths. Even more alarming is the reality that in many cases—even those in which someone is injured—the at-fault driver flees the scene.
Parking lot hit-and-run accidents happen in many different scenarios: from pedestrians or bicyclists being hit, to accidents involving a driver fleeing the scene after crashing into an empty vehicle, to accidents involving a driver crashing into another occupied vehicle that is either parked or moving through the lot. If you suffered injuries in any of these parking lot hit-and-run accidents, contact an experienced car accident lawyer to help you understand your legal options for obtaining compensation. And read on to learn more about parking lot hit-and-run accidents generally.
Parking lot accidents happen in part because a parking lot is exactly the place that drivers do not expect an accident to happen, so they let their guards down. After all, once you turn off the busy road, you are good, right? Most of the vehicles in the lot are parked. Those that do move are doing so relatively slowly.
Unfortunately, a seemingly safe place to drive can become dangerous from:
There are many reasons why a driver may flee the scene after causing a parking lot accident.
Some of the more common reasons include:
Whatever the reason, hit-and-runs are serious offenses that can create both civil and criminal liability for offenders.
With new technological advances, authorities in states and municipalities are finding ways to use technology to assist in catching hit-and-run drivers. Several years ago, Los Angeles became one of the first municipalities to implement a yellow alert system, which shares descriptions of vehicles involved in hit-and-run accidents with city bus and taxi drivers by text message, as well as pushing the information to the general public through the police department’s social media pages. Many businesses have parking lot cameras, which can also help in tracking down hit-and-run offenders.
There are several kinds of hit-and-run accidents that happen in parking lots. The following are some of the more common scenarios.
Drivers who bump a parked car in a parking lot or while attempting to park on the street who then flee the scene of the accident without notifying the driver and providing contact and insurance information are not merely being inconsiderate—they are committing a crime. Fleeing the scene after hitting an unoccupied parked car is a misdemeanor in many states, and if the vehicle is occupied and an occupant is injured, the crime may be a felony
If police charge someone with a driving offense, that does not affect your ability to file a civil claim against the at-fault party to recover compensation for your injury. On the contrary, criminal charges or convictions for the accident can serve as strong evidence in proving the at-fault party’s liability in your case.
California is a popular place for pedestrians, with year-round sunshine and ample trails and paths. While pedestrians generally understand the risk of walking along a busy roadway, few realize the risk of getting hit in parking lots. Pedestrians account for the majority of parking lot fatalities.
One of the most common ways pedestrian accidents occur in parking lots is due to a driver failing to check that no one is walking behind them as they back out of a parking space. This is more likely if other, larger vehicles obstruct the drivers’ view to the sides before they begin backing up, or the driver simply fails to check their mirrors. Drivers failing to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at crosswalks are another common cause of parking lot pedestrian accidents.
If a pedestrian is struck by a car and the driver flees the scene, the injured pedestrian may be left unconscious and will have to rely on eyewitnesses and surveillance cameras to catch the license plate number or at least a description of the vehicle that hit them to track down the offender.
In California, it is a felony to engage in a hit-and-run accident involving an occupied, parked vehicle in which someone is injured as a result of the accident. The offense is punishable by penalties, fines, suspension of driving privileges, and jail time. The same applies to parking lot hit-and-run accidents involving one moving vehicle colliding with another moving vehicle, resulting in injury. Again, these criminal charges do not impact your claim in any way except that they can serve as evidence of the drivers’ liability.
The first thing you should do if you are injured in a hit-and-run parking lot accident is to seek medical attention for your injuries, even if they do not seem serious.
If you are able, some actions you should take include:
The fact that the driver fled the scene of the accident after damaging your property or injuring you does not preclude you from obtaining compensation for the expenses of your injury. However, it can make your case more difficult.
Insurance policies, not individual drivers, pay most car accident claims. However, you may sue an uninsured driver and obtain a court judgment against them.
Either way, if you do not know who the driver is, you cannot track them down to bring a claim against them, let alone determine whether they have insurance or whether you will instead have to seek compensation from them out-of-pocket.
Surveillance cameras and eyewitnesses are key sources of evidence that can assist in identifying a parking lot hit-and-run driver.
If police identify the driver who fled your parking lot accident, they will track down the driver’s name and insurance, which you will need to initiate your claim. This will enable your attorney to begin your case by submitting a demand package to the driver’s insurance carrier or, in the event the driver is uninsured, by bringing a lawsuit against the offender in court.
Often, uninsured drivers are uninsured because they cannot afford to pay insurance premiums, which also means they are likely unable to pay for your expenses out-of-pocket. For this reason, it is best for you if the driver is insured. If the driver is insured, your attorney can file a demand package containing details about how the accident occurred, as well as documentation of the expenses and impacts associated with your injuries and a demand for compensation of an amount to cover those expenses and impacts.
When the insurance company receives and reviews the demand, they have three options for responding:
If the insurance company denies the claim, you can file a personal injury lawsuit and seek the money from the at-fault party through the court system. If the insurance company offers a settlement, you will likely begin the process of settlement negotiations, in which your attorney will attempt to get the insurance company to increase the amount of their offer to a level that fairly compensates you for your injuries and impacts.
According to AAA Foundation, several factors lead to a higher likelihood of a driver being identified after a parking lot pedestrian hit-and-run accident, including some you might not expect, such as:
If the police cannot identify the driver in your case, your attorney can look for other sources of liability, such as the parking lot owner if the accident resulted from poor lighting or inadequate surveillance.
Without other potential sources of liability, your options for obtaining compensation generally involve filing a claim with your own insurance, through uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, MedPay, or a health insurance policy that you obtained on your own or through employment.
Even if you are planning to seek compensation through your own insurance, an attorney can help. Some are under the impression that their own insurance company will be more receptive and loyal to their insureds’ claims than to the individuals who file third-party claims due to the liable actions of their insureds.
While there is some truth to this, it is only to a certain extent. All insurance companies are in the business of making money. The primary way they make money is by avoiding large payouts on claims, whether their insureds or those injured by their insureds file them.
Without a doubt, the identities of hit-and-run perpetrators are difficult to prove, especially if you suffered serious injuries and are focused on healing. Rather than do it alone, contact an experienced car accident attorney to represent you in bringing a claim.
You can schedule a free consultation with most attorneys to explore your legal options for pursuing compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury. During your consultation, an attorney can provide information about their firm and the services they can provide you.
Posted in: Car Accidents
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