Who Is Responsible If You Hit an Illegally Parked Car?


Responsibility for accidents involving parked cars, even illegally parked cars, typically falls on the driver. But there are circumstances where the owner of the illegally parked car can be found at fault.

Determining fault in a car accident where there is only one driver might seem profoundly easy, even for a rookie inspector.

But the truth is there are one-driver accidents when circumstances do muddle the concept of who’s at fault.

What if the car you struck was parked illegally? You may not be off the hook since you were still the only one behind the wheel, and state laws require drivers to exercise reasonable care.

But if that parking violation significantly compromised your ability to avoid a collision, you could at least have a case to prove shared negligence. And if you suffer injuries as a passenger in a car that hits an illegally parked car, your case almost certainly will carry more weight with insurance companies and juries.

Who Is at Fault If You Hit an Illegally Parked Car?

“Anytime there’s a violation of a statute such as a parking ban, it can be regarded as negligence per se,” said Tom Merriman, managing partner of Merriman Legal in Cleveland, Ohio. “It’s the causality that’s most often the determining factor.”

Consider two scenarios to understand the difference in causality that could crop up in deciding fault in an accident involving an illegally parked car.

Scenario 1: You hit a car illegally parked in front of a fire hydrant. The reason for parking bans around fire hydrants is to allow rescue personnel access to that area. The ban does not exist because parking there presents a safety hazard for other drivers.

“In that case, the negligence of the illegally parked car’s owner isn’t a direct cause of the accident you’re involved in,” said Merriman.

Scenario II: You hit a parked car that is illegally parked around a blind turn. The reason why a parking ban exists at that location is expressly because parking there is a safety hazard for other drivers.

“There is some level of causation of accident in that scenario,” Merriman said. “If I’m the driver there is still the question of comparative fault. I’m going to have to prove that the owner is more at fault than I am for the accident given that I have a duty as a driver to maintain a lookout and exercise reasonable care.”

Standards of reasonable care obviously do not apply to an injured passenger in such an accident. An injured passenger whose driver navigates a blind turn and strikes an illegally parked car can file claims against the driver and against the owner of the illegally parked car.

“That claim instantly has more value,” said Merriman, whose firm is litigating one such case presently.

What Happens after You Hit a Car That Is Illegally Parked?

What should happen is basically the same as what happens in the aftermath of a traffic accident involving another driver.

  • In the case of a parked car, attempt to find the owner. Do not leave the scene before calling the police and/or leaving a note with contact information for the driver of the car in a visible place (under the windshield wiper). Remember, it’s against the law to leave the scene of an accident.
  • Gather photographic evidence of the damage, taking special care to document proof that the car you hit was indeed parked illegally. Get the contact information of any witnesses.
  • Call your insurance agent. Give the agent the information you’ve gathered and offer the photographic evidence you have without admitting fault for the accident.
  • If you have questions about your level of fault in an accident, especially one involving an illegally parked car, contact an experienced car accident attorney.

Depending on the nature of the parking ban violation, you may be able to prove shared negligence.

Even if the whodunit aspect of the accident involving a single driver and a parked car isn’t a mystery, the accident’s circumstances can affect the outcome of insurance claims and – if necessary – jury decisions.

Robert Shaw

Robert Shaw is a writer based in Ohio who brings decades of newspaper experience as a reporter, columnist and editor to his freelance work. Shaw has written on topics as diverse as the city of Atlanta's successful bid to secure the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, to the educational challenges faced by an urban Cleveland school during the Covid-19 pandemic, to federal home buying loan programs designed to help teachers, firefighters, police and emergency personnel get a foothold in the housing market. Whatever the topic, Shaw strives to bring a sharp focus and clear understanding to the issues affecting people's everyday lives.


  1. N.A. (ND) Comparative Negligence. Retrieved from https://www.teamlgm.com/auto-accidents/comparative-negligence
  2. N.A. (ND) Can I File a Claim If I Hit an Illegally Parked Car? Retrieved from https://www.personalinjury-law.com/faq/file-claim-hit-illegally-parked-car
  3. Ahmed. (ND) What Happens If You Hit A Car That Is Illegally Parked? Retrieved from https://distracteddriveraccidents.com/what-happens-if-you-hit-a-car-that-is-illegally-parked/