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Backing Into Illegally Parked Car: Who is at Fault?


backing into illegally parked car
By Seth Anderson on Flickr

Question:  One night it was extremely dark and I backed into a car.  It was in a tow zone and there aren’t supposed to be any vehicles parked there.  I go to this place all the time so I did not expect there to be a vehicle there.  Am I at fault if I hit a parked car that was in a tow zone?


Answer:  Here’s your problem: you were moving and the parked car was not.  The car you struck may have been illegally parked, in violation of ordinances, statutes and all the rest.  But, the negligence formula requires a look at conduct.  You were in control of the vehicle that was moving.  The other car was stopped like a rock.

Fault Determination: Illegally Parked Car Hit

Look at it like this: although the other car’s driver left the vehicle in a bad place, you had the last clear chance to stop a collision.  There is in fact a legal doctrine known as last clear chance which will not be your friend in that the parked car, although in the wrong place at the wrong time, did nothing in the moment before the crash to cause the damage.

To be fair, some jurisdictions have abandoned the ‘last clear chance’ doctrine.  Comparative fault or contributory negligence formulas are used to look at facts and circumstances leading up to a collision.  Proportional fault is then assigned to each of the parties.  There’s a more thorough explanation of these legal concepts in another article.

Under this concept, parking the car in a tow zone violated an ordinance or other law largely intended for public safety and traffic control.  That wasn’t what caused the actual collision.  Starting up the car and backing into the stopped vehicle caused the crash.  Under either analysis the result is the same.

Hopefully you have insurance which can adjust the loss and everyone can back out of the situation and move on with their lives.

More legal topic in this link.

This blog post based on an article © 2012 Eagle Tribune Corporation, originally appearing in Derry News “About the Law”


6 thoughts on “Backing Into Illegally Parked Car: Who is at Fault?”

    1. What’s not clear? You are operating a vehicle and controlling its movements. The stationery vehicle is not moving. You back into it. Not sure what is not clear about this but get back to me and I will try to respond. Thank you for contacting me through my website.

  1. My wife backed up and tapped a vehicle the owner was standing next to the drivers door he was dropping off a friend. It was pitch dark my wife looked in both mirrors and put our vehicle in reverse moved maybe 2 ft. and hit his car he could see that. She was backing up no response from him to make us aware that he was behind us or that we were going to hit him. Only a scratch might have pushed his bumper in couple of mm barely. Wants us to pay deductible of 500 whose at fault. What to do ??? Thank you rob and Kathy

    1. It sounds like minimal damage. The fact remains that the other car was stationery and your car with your wife driving was moving, so she had the last clear chance to avoid contact and is liable. To your concern that the are puffing up the damages you have a right to see the actual damage repair estimate. If you can’t compromise your choices include letting them take you to a small claims court where the judge would have to decide the issue, or let your insurance company deal with it. Yes, I know, within your deductible. But its what insurance companies do. Yes, I know, major pain, but these things happen.

  2. hello, i recently hit a car that was parked next to me as i was backing up but the thing is, she wasn’t parked in a legal parking spot, i warned her i wasn’t capable of backing up bc i wasn’t use to driving the vechile i was driving, i waited 23 minutes for her to back up & she didn’t she was talking to her friend in the car, so when i did back up i struck her car. whose at fault?

    1. Put yourself in their position. Would you want someone taking your car to their unknown to you, personal family repair person? Objectively speaking the answer is no. So the choice is yours. Pay what they want or let them take you to small claims court. If you go to small claims court you should have documentation to show their proof is not reasonable. The other possible solution, request that they get a second estimate from a repair facility with no connection to either one of you. Best wishes.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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