Who Is At Fault If An Open Car Door Is Hit?

Question: I was pulling into a parking space at the grocery store when the driver in the next parking spot threw open her door, causing me to hit it with my front fender.  There is minor damage to both vehicles. Who is at fault?  She says it is my fault for hitting her door, and I say she shouldn't have opened the door while I was parking next to her.  She made a claim against my insurance policy. What should I do?

Answer: I would recommend you make a claim against the other party's car insurance policy.  That way, with claims made by each driver against the other's liability coverages, the insurance companies involved will investigate and determine where fault lies and settle the claims based on that.  Keep in mind that the insurance companies' determination and division of fault may differ. 

Parking lot accidents typically are he-said-she-said incidents -- each driver has his or her own view of what happened and where fault should lie. For minor incidents like this, police usually won't even come to write up a report, but leave you to exchange information and decide on your own about filing claims.

Without seeing the cars and the damage, we're unable to assign blame.  We can, however, see how it would appear that the party opening the door would be the one to bear the majority of fault.  As the person pulling into the parking spot, you can't be sure when a person is going to open their door while the other party should be aware enough of her surroundings to check for an incoming car before opening her door.

Luckily for you, the law is normally in your favor with regards to when a person should open a door.  You didn't mention where you live, but it should be easy for you to look into what state law says about opening a car door. 

For example, Texas transportation code section 545.418 says that a person may not:

  1. open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic, unless the door may be opened in reasonable safety without interfering with the movement of other traffic;  or
  2. leave a door on the side of a vehicle next to moving traffic open for longer than is necessary to load or unload a passenger.

New York State vehicle and traffic law section 1214 and California vehicle code section 22517 basically says the same in that “no person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so.”  

While you weren't on a public roadway, the same guidelines should apply to the grocery store parking lot.  This means that the person opening the car door has the responsibility to do so only if it's safe.

All that being said, it doesn't mean the insurance companies will fully exonerate you from having any responsibility.  The insurers will want to examine the damage to each vehicle to help determine the timing of events and decide if they will hold one or both of you at fault. 

If the person's door were fully open, then it's possible it will be said you should have seen it and had time to stop.  If the person opened it into your fender, then it would appear that person didn't take reasonable actions and look before opening their door.

If each driver is found a bit to blame, then depending upon if your state has comparative or contributory negligence laws, you may only be partially able to collect from the other party's insurance policy for your vehicle's' damages or collect nothing at all.  Either way, I think you'll feel better making a claim and letting the insurance companies fight it out as to who was at fault.

If your claim isn't paid out by the other party's insurance company, you can make a collision claim against your own insurance policy - if the damage is more than your deductible amount.  Remember your collision coverage benefits only start after your deductible amount is paid. (See “ Save your insurance for the big things”)

Determining what kind of coverage to use for a claim can be tricky.  Try out our Crash-o-matic tool that lets you click on six common accident scenarios to find out what type of insurance coverage is needed to pay for the damage.