Will car insurance cover an accident by a parked car?

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Melanie Musson
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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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Car insurance protects you from lawsuits any time your vehicle injures someone or damages their property. If you choose to purchase full-coverage insurance, it also pays to repair your own vehicle any time it’s damaged as a result of an accident or other covered event. Many people own auto insurance policies for many years without needing to use their coverage. Unfortunately, accidents can happen at any time, and some are unavoidable.

Your auto insurance coverage doesn’t just pay for accidents caused while you are driving your vehicle. The coverage follows the vehicle itself, so any accident your vehicle is involved in should be covered by insurance unless your company specifically excludes it. This includes accidents that occur when people borrow your vehicle. It also covers accidents when your vehicle is parked and unoccupied.

Parked Vehicle Accidents and Insurance

As a rule, any time that your vehicle is hit by another car while it’s parked and unoccupied, the accident will be considered the other person’s fault. If it’s a hit-and-run, the damage may be covered under uninsured motorist, but even if it’s handled by collision, you will not be held liable for that damage. This is true even if your vehicle is parked illegally. Unfortunately, the same is not true of vehicles that slip out of gear and hit another car while unoccupied. This can happen for several reasons:

  • A child in the vehicle puts it into gear or removes the parking brake
  • A pet left in the vehicle bumps the gear shift
  • The transmission slips and the car rolls down a hill
  • A car is left in gear rather than park
  • The parking break fails

While this does not happen as often with automatic cars as in those with manual transmissions, it can still occur. If the unoccupied vehicle then collides with a parked car or fixed object, you as the driver’s owner will be found at fault for the damage. This is true even if you were not the one that parked the car.

In certain cases, if the car is parked by someone else and the accident was caused by negligence. For example, if a valet parks your car and doesn’t take it out of gear before exiting the vehicle, you may be able to sue the valet company for the damages. There are no guarantees that you would win the case, however, and you would still be liable to your insurance company in the meanwhile until the claim was settled.

What Coverages Apply to this Accident?

Because you would be found at fault for the damages your car causes, any damage sustained to other people’s vehicles or property would be handled under your property damage liability insurance. You would not pay any deductible for the other person’s damage, but your insurance premiums may increase in the future due to the at-fault collision on your record.

If your own vehicle is damaged in the process, repairs would be paid under collision coverage. You would be responsible for paying your collision deductible in this scenario. If you don’t have collision, you would have to cover your own repairs out of pocket.

Additionally, note that the insurance company would only pay for the damages that were caused by the accident itself. Any mechanical failures that caused the vehicle to slip out of gear would not be covered by insurance. This means that the insurance company may pay to replace a damaged bumper, but they will not cover the cost of a new transmission if the transmission caused the accident in the first place.

A Few Tips for Preventing These Types of Accidents

  • For manual transmission cars, always put your vehicle in gear instead of neutral while parked
  • Always use your parking brake
  • Avoid parking on hills during icy weather whenever possible
  • Make sure your vehicle is in park before exiting the car
  • Don’t leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle
  • Always leave ample room between vehicles when parallel parking in case your car rolls back when it settles

Unattended vehicle accidents like this are uncommon, but they do happen. It’s important to pay attention to your vehicle when parking it so that you reduce your chances of the vehicle rolling away and causing damages or injuring someone. A few moments of attentiveness in checking your gear and setting the brake can help prevent an at-fault collision and save you money on insurance.

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