Photo of a man with the phone next to the car

When you park in front of your home, at a parking garage, in a parking lot, or in front of a business, you rightfully expect it to be in the same condition as it was when you parked. If you come to your car and find that it has been damaged, it is an incredibly upsetting experience.

Whether you own your car or are still making payments, you’re right to be upset about someone hitting your car while it was parked. Fortunately, you don’t have any injuries, but your car now has property damage. 

California requires that drivers who accidentally hit a parked vehicle leave their contact information for the owner of the vehicle. It is not acceptable to simply drive away from the scene, and drivers who fail to take this step can face criminal charges as well as a civil lawsuit for the damages caused. 

This informative article provides details on the legal aspects of hit and run accidents with parked vehicles and what you can do in this situation. 

Understanding Parked Car Hit and Run Laws in California

In a hit and run accident with a parked car in California, every driver should know the laws. Any driver that commits a hit and run can face penalties. The state classifies hit and run car cases according to severity. 

A California hit and run parked car accident would be considered a misdemeanor charge because it only caused property damage. The charge can be upgraded to a felony if the accident causes an injury or fatality.

When the at-fault driver is caught, they will face misdemeanor charges for this incident. If convicted, the at-fault driver may face up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. In order for these charges to apply, it must be proven that the driver caused property damage and left the accident scene without identifying themselves.

Man photographing car accident scene

Why Do People Cause California Hit and Run Parked Car Accidents?

There are many reasons why someone would crash into your parked car and leave without fulfilling their legal obligations under California law.

Distracted Driving

There are more distractions than ever while behind the wheel. The other driver may have been on their phone at the time, busy looking up directions on GPS, eating, or performing other actions. Anything that can distract a driver on the road can cause them to hit a parked car. In some cases, they may realize what they’ve done while in others, the driver seems oblivious to the world outside their vehicles.

Intoxicated Driving

Another common reason for a hit and run accident with a parked car in California is when a driver is intoxicated. They may have had a bit too much to drink and then foolishly gotten behind the wheel instead of calling for a ride. When they hit your parked vehicle, they may have panicked at the thought of facing a DUI charge and took off without leaving their information.

No Insurance

Drivers who do not have insurance coverage even in the basic amounts are breaking the law. There are many in California who drive without the minimum requirements for car insurance. They may be unable to make payments or simply do not care. If an uninsured driver hits your parked car, they are more likely to leave the accident scene than to do what is right.

Failing to Obey Traffic Laws

Whether it’s intentional or they are just being careless, many California drivers fail to follow traffic laws. When they run stop signs in parking lots, turn in an unsafe way, or make other maneuvers, they may bump into parked vehicles and cause damage.

What Legal Obligations Does a Driver Have When They Collide with a Parked Car?

Parked car hit and run laws in California require any driver who collides with a parked car to alert the owner. If it’s possible, the driver who hit the parked car should try to find the owner of the vehicle. This may be easier if they are parked in front of a home or a small business. 

However, if the collision with the parked vehicle occurred in a large parking lot, it may be difficult to find the vehicle owner. In those instances, the driver should leave a note with their correct and current contact information. California law also requires the driver to notify authorities, especially when the owner can’t be located. 

If you came to your car and found it damaged and there was no note left for you, you will need to contact local law enforcement. Anyone who witnesses this type of event must also report it to the police. 

Steps to Take in a California Hit and Run Parked Car Accident

When your car is damaged, it is a frustrating scenario. It’s even worse when you realize they left the scene without providing their contact information. Dealing with a California hit and run parked car crash is not the way anyone wants to spend their day.

If you find yourself standing in front of your damaged parked car, you should follow these steps to help protect your legal rights: 

Check Your Surroundings

In some cases, someone may have left a note that blew off your windshield. Take a look in the area surrounding your vehicle. You may find a note or business card, or you may find other vital evidence that can be used.

In the absence of a note, ask anyone nearby if they happened to see anything occur. You should also check any local businesses and speak with a manager. They may have surveillance cameras that captured the event.

Some car owners walk out to their vehicles at the precise time another car hits theirs. If you witness someone else hitting your car, pull out your phone and start recording them or take pictures. Get the license plate and a clear shot of the make, model, and color of the vehicle. It also helps to capture the driver behind the wheel. The car they’re driving could be stolen, which is another reason why they wouldn’t bother to leave a note. You’ll then have tangible evidence to show the police when reporting the accident. 

While it may be tempting, it is ill-advised to chase after someone who crashed into your parked car. They may be armed and dangerous, and it is best to get evidence you can use rather than risk your life. 

Get Photos of Your Vehicle

Whether you saw what happened or not, you should take photos of your vehicle. Leave it in the same place and take shots from every angle. You’ll want to show the full extent of the damages for insurance purposes. It also helps to capture the surrounding area to show where you were parked. If you need to file a lawsuit, the photos can be helpful evidence for your injury lawyer

Call the Police

Ideally, before you start taking photos of your damaged car, you should call the police to report the hit and run accident with a parked car in California. Be prepared to provide them with all the details, which will help them to file an accident report. 

The police will also ask witnesses to give statements and check in with the homeowners or businesses in the area where you parked to see if they have surveillance footage of the hit and run parked car accident. 

Notify Your Car Insurance Company

In California, car insurance uses an at-fault model, which means that the driver who caused the accident has to pay your damages. When a driver hits a parked vehicle and leaves a note, they are doing the right thing, allowing you to make a claim for your property damage. If there is no note, you must contact your insurer to report the accident and file a claim.

It’s not fair that you have to use your insurance when someone else does this to your vehicle. Your insurance policy may not even help if you don’t have collision coverage or uninsured motorist coverage. You’ll still have to report the accident to your insurer regardless, though be prepared that you may need to pay your deductible if they will cover the damage or pay out of pocket if it isn’t covered.

You can choose to wait and see if the police find the at-fault driver before filing a claim. If they are found, you can file a claim with their insurance company and have them cover your damages. However, you can’t wait forever, and if your auto insurance policy doesn’t have the additional coverage, that limits your options unless you seek legal assistance.

Photo of a scales and a book on the table

Legal Consequences for Hit and Run Drivers in California

In California, a hit and run accident involving a parked car that only causes property damage is treated as a misdemeanor. If the driver who caused this accident is found, they may face up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines. Sometimes, judges may issue a misdemeanor probationary period rather than a jail sentence. An additional fine of $250 is imposed for failing to exchange insurance information after an accident. 

Most of the time, when parked cars are hit, there are no passengers inside. However, if you or a loved one were sitting in the car, the charges for hit and run would be upgraded to felony charges if the incident caused injuries or fatalities. A driver that causes this type of hit and run accident would be ordered to compensate you for your vehicle repairs. They would also have points added to their license, which may result in having it suspended. 

Keep in mind that these are the consequences under the criminal justice system. You have the right to sue the driver that damaged your vehicle, which may be wise if your insurance policy either isn’t enough to fully cover the damages or your insurer does not provide this coverage.

The Importance of Evidence in California Hit and Run Parked Car Accidents

In a perfect world, a driver that accidentally bangs into your vehicle while it is parked would make an effort to find you or leave a detailed note tucked under one of your windshield wipers. Sadly, the world is full of dishonest people who think the laws do not apply to them.

You may be stuck paying for your vehicle repairs yourself unless you find the at-fault driver. This is why the evidence you gather is absolutely crucial. When you take photos of the damage to your car, check to see if you can determine the paint color of the other vehicle. Investigators can then use their resources to match it to the right type of vehicle, which could help narrow down the search.

Witnesses may have seen things that you did not, such as the make, model, and color of the vehicle. Some may even recall the license plate number or have specific details about the driver of the vehicle. In this day and age, many people who witness these events will take photos, which can help track down the negligent driver.

In the absence of witnesses, it’s hard to find a place that doesn’t have surveillance cameras in front of businesses or in parking lots. Many homeowners even have security cameras installed to deter package thefts and other crimes. You may be pleasantly surprised that they might have captured images of the vehicle that damaged your car.

The more evidence you have, the more likely it will be that you will be able to hold the negligent person accountable for their actions. If they are not insured, you may be able to hold them personally liable for paying for the repairs for your vehicle.

By Maho | Prentice, LLP Attorneys at Law on May 6, 2024