Black Friday: Parking lot perils

Last year 141 million shoppers hit the stores multiple days during the “Black Friday” weekend, up from 139 million in 2012, according to the National Retail Federation.

What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, according to CarInsurance.Com's survey on parking lot accidents, claims, strategies and confrontations. Results reveal that among those who have had a parking lot accident, 35 percent hit another car while 15 percent dinged poles; 8 percent hit a cart and 6 percent hit a cart corral. Pedestrians weren't spared either - 4 percent hit a person.

What's worse is only 39 percent knew that liability insurance is the coverage that pays for damage to the other car in an at-fault accident. Just 38 percent knew that collision pays for car damage if one hits a pole.

To help drivers out, I've compiled some guidance on what to do if you are involved in a parking lot incident and the role car insurance plays.

Tips for filing a parking lot claim

Can I get a witness? Many parking lot accidents end up with drivers disagreeing about who was at fault.  For this reason, if you are in an accident with another car in a parking lot I'd advise you to find any independent witnesses to the event.

Take photos of the accident scene.  If your cellphone has the capability to take photos, that will do in a pinch.  Get the cars' damages and the whole scene. If the person was going up the aisle the wrong way, you would want your photo to show that.

Note the damage done. You don't want the person coming back and saying you damaged their whole front end if you know it was a small scrape on the side. You don't want to pay for damages you didn't cause.

Avoid confrontation.  Getting into a loud dispute or fist-a-cuffs with the other driver isn't going to solve anything.  Exchange information so you can contact the other person's insurance company and keep your hands to yourself. 

Don't admit guilt.  Saying sorry may be your polite upbringing, but you may not actually be at fault for the accident, so it's better to be silent.  Let the police and insurance investigators determine what happened -- if you disagree, then dispute their findings.  Many parking lot accidents end up with responsibility being shared between the drivers.

How to file a claim if:

You hit a pole -- This is considered a collision claim since you collided with an object, and you will be found at fault by your insurer. Collision coverage pays regardless of fault but comes with a deductible so I'd recommend that you find out the cost of repair before placing a claim. If the repair cost is lower than your deductible (or even a tad above it), pay out of your own pocket without making a claim since your collision coverage only kicks in once you've met the deductible amount.

You hit a cart or cart hits you -- If a cart hits your car, don't expect the store to pony up any money; you park at your own risk. Since the cart collided with your vehicle, it's a collision claim. Your deductible will be due, so if it's a minor scrap, take care of it without getting your car insurance company involved. 

You hit a pedestrian or are hit by a car -- A pedestrian can make a claim against your bodily injury liability coverage if injured by your vehicle and you're found legally liable for the incident. If the pedestrian is seriously injured, you may have to pay out-of-pocket for expenses that exceed your bodily injury limit. If you are hit as a pedestrian in the parking lot, you can place a claim with the car owner's bodily injury liability coverage or, if you have personal injury protection (PIP) or Medical Payments coverage you can make a claim under your own auto insurance.

You hit another car -- Your car's damage would be taken care of by collision coverage. The other car that you hit can make a claim under your property damage liability coverage. If you hit an unattended vehicle and are unable to find the owner, make sure to leave a note.  A note is required by law, and if you fail to leave one, the accident can be deemed a hit-and-run, which is considered a serious offense by the state and your auto insurer.

Another car hits your car -- If the other party is found at fault, you could use your collision coverage or put your claim through the at-fault party's liability coverage. The latter is typically wiser since the claim will go on the other party's insurance record instead of the collision one going on yours.

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