Fender Bender Liability Question

I have to back out of my parking spot to the right to exit my parking gargage. In the area where I always back out it is supposed to be clear, so cars can drive there. But yesterday there was a car parked right where back into and I did not notice it and I hit it. There is a pretty good dent in my bumper and some minimal paint damage to the car I hit. It is in a pretty innocuous place, the front right part of the bumper, but it is a new car. The car I hit was not in a parking spot, and I don’t even think it belongs to a resident. I left a note but have not heard from them.

I know I have some responsibility and quite possibility all the liability. But I have backed out of that spot a thousand times without ever even having to worry about there being a car there, so needless to say I am more than a little annoyed to have this mess.

Ideally I would just fix my own car, let them worry about theirs, but how much liability do I really have here?

Interesting situation. First, were you looking behind you while backing up? You’re supposed to, even if there’s not supposed to be anyone behind you.

I’m not a cop or an insurance agent but I’d guess that it doesn’t really matter if the car was parked someplace where no cars are normally parked. You backed up and hit it. You’re supposed to look behind you while backing up. It wasn’t a small object that could conceivably not be seen even if you were looking; it was a car. I think you’re right when you say you quite possibly have all the liability. But as I said, I’m not a copy or an agent.

My wife’s car recently got hit by another car backing out of a parking spot at Penney’s. The woman left a note and when my wife finally got in touch with her (she left a first name and an address but no phone number) she found out the woman did not have any insurance. The cops said there was nothing they could do because it happened on private property, they wouldn’t cite her for driving without insurance and wouldn’t even file a report. So we’re going to wind up having to eat the cost of a new bumper ourselves.

My point being, apparently you can do all the damage you want on private property and nobody is going to hold you responsible.

I wouldn’t count on that. Insurance laws vary from state to state. Maybe it is true but just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it applies to everyone.

Ganster Octopus,
If you back into a parked car it is totally your fault regardless if the other car was parked illegally. You should have been looking where you were going. What if instead of an illegally parked car it was a child on a tricycle? Of, course the owner of the car could have avoided the hassle of getting his car repaired and the chance of having to pay for it himself by parking in a proper place. But you are responsible for reimbursing any out of pocket expenses that resulted from your negligence.

Just because the police would not write a report and the woman had no insurance does not prevent you from suing her in small claims court. In California if you have a court judgement awarding you damages that resulted from an auto accident you can have the DMV suspend that person’s license until they pay you. I know because I was able to collect damages using this law. Check the law in your own state.

Rufus, we considered the small claims court approach, but from what little we were able to learn about the person who hit us, she is handicapped, has no job, lives in a dump, has very little money, (I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t even have a driver’s license) and we figured it just wasn’t worth it. Even if we won, we’d probably never see a dime.

Shoeless, but winning her car would prevent her from being a menace to others. If she can’t afford insurance, then she can’t afford a car.

On the practical side, though, isn’t uninsured driver insurance pretty much a standard inclusion on just about every single auto policy in existance?

Uninsured Motorist Liability is, as far as I know, a required coverage everywhere in the U.S. (on a car that carries Bodily Injury coverage as opposed to car that’s in storage and only carrying physical damage coverage). Uninsured Motorist Property Damage is not usually required (I don’t know that it’s required anywhere, that depends on state laws) and sometimes not even available. This situation would fall under UMPD.

Gangster, this was very recent so you may still hear from the other car’s owner. OTOH they may think it’s not worth the bother.

One thing you can do is call your insurance company and ask them a “hypothetical” question. I’m sure they’d be glad to give you the information. I wouldn’t say which car was mine in this hypothetical situation.

Rufus, can you please cite the authority for these statements? You mention negligence but there are varying degrees of care that are required in different circumstances. As an illustrative example, it is possible that merely ordinary care is required here and checking for cars parked in actual parking spaces may meet the test of ordinary care. Checking for cars illegally parked might be considered extraordinary care and may not be required. IANAL but my point is that I don’t know and the referenced post offers no backup for the position.

I would think this depends on several factors, such as state insurance regulations, applicable traffic laws, whether the other car was parked illegally, the fact that it took place on private property, etc. In the end it might be up to a judge to decide.

Gangster, this was very recent so you may still hear from the other car’s owner. OTOH they may think it’s not worth the bother.

One thing you can do is call your insurance company and ask them a “hypothetical” question. I’m sure they’d be glad to give you the information. I wouldn’t say which car was mine in this hypothetical situation.

Thanks for the input. I am still annoyed yet realize I am almost certainly fully liable. Having said that, the person still ahs not contacted me and they have been around. So maybe they are just thinking it is no bother.

I forgot to mention that I once backed into a crane. Not a bird that stands on one leg, but one those giant pieces of construction equipment. I didn’t see it. Honestly. Outside. In full daylight. In a wide open parking lot. Really. Had no idea it was there, and I really was looking. Took out the rear glass and screwed up the rear pillar pretty bad.

Of course it was my fault. Luckily my insurance company said I wasn’t negligent after drawing a picture of the crane for them, so my rate didn’t increase. Living in a no-fault state helps, too, I guess.

I didn’t hurt the crane, and as far as I know, the operator never even knew there was a collision.

In any case, maybe the other car that was hit was behind on obstruction, like a pillar.

A couple years ago my (new driver at the time) daughter backed into an illegally parked car on private property. I called our insurance company and did the hypothetical question bit. She was definitely at fault. In this case the damage was minor and we didn’t report it to our insurance company nor the DMV and paid the owner of the other car to have it fixed plus rental car. Of course, we had the owner sign a release when we paid him. This was cheaper than paying the increased insurance premiums that would have resulted had our insurance company paid.

In the case of the uninsured driver who rear-ended us: she was also unemployed and had no assets. However, when her license got suspended her mother stepped in and made the payments for our damages. I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions about being able to collect. But one could make the argument that the amount of money involved in your case is not worth the effort. We were at a stop sign waiting for traffic to clear so we could proceed when she rear-ended us. She countered sued us claiming that we backed into her – which sent the court room into hysterics when she told her story.

This is the U.K. so things may be a little different, but a client told the tale where his car was rolling downhill backwards and for some reason the brakes weren’t working and he crashed into a car that happenned to be illegally parked. The usual legal rigmarole began and he stated that he had just about got the car under control and would have done so had the parked car not been there. He was totally exhonorated.

I talked to the cops recentely in Calif about this. They said if it’s not more than $750 they won’t do a report.

You can always ask your local cops what your liability is, GO.

I can see where you might want to see if your state is a comparative negligence state to try and mitigate your liability, but based on the principles of negligence (i.e. duty to act or refrain from acting, breach of the duty, proximately causing actual damages) looks like you’ve got 100% liability on this one.

Notes on Uninsured Motorist/UM Property Damage: As stated by someone earlier, simple uninsured/underinsured coverage is for injuries only. Uninsured motorist property damage coverage varies greatly from state to state and is not available to purchase in all of the (Oklahoma for example.) Also, the circumstances to qualify for applying your UM/UMPD varies from state to state with vastly different requirements.

Note on Subrogation: When your insurance company pays out any money on a claim, a clause in your policy is triggered that allows them to “go after” the responsible party to try to recover both what they paid and your deductible from the responsible party. Never underestimate the power of an insurance companies Subrogation department! I’ve seen claims where an insured was hit by a truckload of (literally) illegals from Mexico. Our recovery department finally collected in full and returned the insureds deductible (though it did take a year.)

  • Kevin Lowe
    Farmers Insurance Group


Bravo, shodai34 !

While I was reading the post I kept thinking, “There’s gotta be a claim rep out there someplace besides me!”

I totally agree with your liability assessment (Sorry Octopus, Old Bean). Another way to look at this situation is to ask, “Who had the last clear chance to avoid the accident?” The other car was parked (illegally or otherwise doesn’t matter in at least WA, UT, CO or WY) and Gangster Octopus was the only thing moving.

To respond to CookingWithGas : Rufus, can you please cite the authority for these statements? Look up your state’s statutes on “Limitations on Backing,” or “Unsafe Backing.” Any that I’ve read make it a legal point: You don’t begin backing until it can be done safely. Slam Dunk, Octopus takes the hit for the accident.

Shoeless: “My point being, apparently you can do all the damage you want on private property and nobody is going to hold you responsible.” Not exactly, except under certain conditions, the Po-leese will not come to traffic accidents on private property. But all cops do is deal with any broken laws. Liability is a civil matter and other resources (like witnesses) can hold you accountable for 100% of the damage ya do. And the decisions of the police do not necessarily apply to liability decisions. If you make a left turn on a green light and get smacked by oncoming traffic, you WILL get a ticket for failing to yield. But the other driver will probably be assigned some liability–especially if he was driving in the outermost of 4 lanes and hit you in the right rear of your car. He must have seen you crossing all that traffic, and indeed you almost made it through the intersection. It can be determined that he had the last clear chance to act to avoid the accident and is, therfore, at fault.

Rufus: Glad things worked out with your daughter. If I might make a couple observations:

  1. Many insurance companies have surcharge threshholds that need to be met before your premiums go up. If the threshhold is $1,000, you can do $999 to someone’s fender and never look back–the claim “doesn’t count.”
  2. Be careful handling your own claims. Often additional damage (real or fraudulent) just seems to keep on popping up as the repairs progress. Admitting liability and making a payment can activate a clause in your own policy that releases your insurance company from having to handle your claim. The idea is that in some cases your carrier may have been able to mitigate or deny the other person’s claim/your libaility. A good example is a collision between two cars backing out of opposing parking spaces–liability is equal for both parties so each collects from his own policy. But you addressed this with the hypothetical question. Excellent.

ALSO, be careful allowing someone else to get you to sign a release: what if they pay you $1,000 in exchange for your signature saying, “That’s all I want” but the repairer discovers additional damage later on? You better hope the other guy will make the additional payment because your insurance carrier will not play ball with you.

–Brad Hutton,
State Farm