What to Do if You’re the Victim of a Hit and Run Accident
Nobody’s Idea of a Good Time
It’s hard to imagine a more frustrating, powerless feeling: You’re on the side of the road with a damaged car, and the perpetrator has driven off and left you with only a trail of dust. It’s also depressingly common: According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “11 out of every 100 traffic accidents are hit and run accidents, [and] of those, 4.3 percent result in fatalities.”
But while being the victim of a hit-and-run accident is an experience that most people wouldn’t wish on an enemy, there are things you can do once you collect yourself to better your chances of finding the other driver and getting some restitution.
First, as you might already know, the law is on your side: All 50 states treat leaving the scene of an accident as a crime. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to deter some drivers from making a run for it, and the discouraging fact is that many hit and run drivers are never caught. The reasons are intuitive: During an unexpected accident, you hardly have time to take down a license plate number or check out the make and model.
Even if you’re unhurt, by the time you compose yourself, the hit and run driver is most likely gone and you’ve got nothing to go on. For that matter, you may not have even been driving at the time; perhaps someone hit your parked car and drove away. Either way, what do you do?
Your Next Move
Hit and run victims should always file a police report first. Because the other driver committed a crime, the police are supposed to investigate and pursue the offender. However, the harsh reality is that hit-and-run accidents are often a low priority for the police department in cases where no one was hurt or killed. You can help the police by gathering as much information as you can from any witnesses. Talk to anyone you can at the scene to see whether they recognized the make or model of the other driver’s vehicle, got a license plate, or saw who was driving.
This last point is important because, in the absence of eyewitness identification, the driver responsible may claim that anyone could have been driving the car; perhaps they loaned it to a friend or relative who also doesn’t know anything about it. This is a frustratingly common and often-successful defense against prosecutions, so identifying the hit-and-run driver with an independent witness is a critical step.
If there were no eyewitnesses available on the scene, you may want to knock on doors in the area to see whether anyone at home saw anything. You could also ask local business owners whether their surveillance cameras may have captured the incident. Also, write down as many details about your experience as you can gather and personally recall: the date, time, and location of the incident; the make, model, license plate, and color of the other car; what the other driver looked like; etc. Use your smartphone or other camera, if you can, to take pictures of the scene and the condition of your vehicle.
You Found Them—Now What?
Even if you successfully identify the other car and/or driver, the legal process involved in holding them accountable can be complex. In general, only the person who actually drove the offending car can be held criminally liable for a hit-and-run accident. The state can prosecute that person and perhaps order them to pay the victim as a condition of any probation; also, in cases where the perpetrator has no insurance or assets, the state prosecutor’s office in many states has access to a victims’ compensation fund that can help provide some restitution. In the event of a criminal prosecution, you’ll want to keep in touch with the district attorney’s office handling the case in order to provide information and follow any developments.
However, in a civil case centered on personal injury, both the car’s driver at the time of the incident and the car’s owner can be found liable for damages stemming from a hit-and-run accident. The liability of the owner often depends on how much they knew about any license restrictions or prior patterns of reckless or illegal driving on the part of the driver when they let them use the vehicle.
In a civil case, you’ll need an attorney to represent you in the process, and an attorney can provide help in other situations as well; for example, if you locate the other driver but they won’t cooperate or provide their insurance information, an attorney can subpoena them for a formal deposition and uncover all the information surrounding the incident.
It’s also a good idea to keep in mind the statute of limitations in your state for leaving the scene of an accident; it is generally 2 years. If you don’t find the other driver and settle your case or lawsuit within that time frame, you won’t be able to do much at that point.
What about Insurance?
It’s not so critical to identify the other driver if you live in one of the 12 no-fault insurance states; in that case, your insurance company will compensate you for the accident whether or not you’re at fault. If you live in a traditional liability insurance state and carry a policy with uninsured or underinsured driver (UIM) coverage, your insurance company should reimburse you for the accident up to the limit of your policy. If you live in a traditional liability state and don’t carry this kind of coverage (and can’t identify and locate the other driver), you may not be able to get any compensation from your insurance at all.
You can also check your homeowners’ insurance policy to see whether it provides any coverage for “extraneous events.” In that case, you might be eligible for compensation from your homeowners’ insurance company for the accident.
Regardless of the exact circumstances of your case, an experienced attorney on your side can provide invaluable help if you’re the victim of a hit and accident. If you would like the experienced personal injury lawyers at Hossley & Embry to investigate a claim or evaluate your case, please call (866) 522-9265 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today for a free, confidential consultation.
Tips for handling a hit and run driver claim. (n.d.). DMV.org. Referenced from http://www.dmv.org/tips-for-handling-a-hit-and-run-driver-claim.php