Car accidents are extremely stressful life events, and nobody wakes up planning for one. While insurance can protect you from the financial damages of an accident, it gets a lot more complicated when an accident is caused by a hit-and-run driver.
Despite laws requiring drivers to stop and exchange information after car accidents, an average of 682,000 hit-and-run accidents occur in the US each year, with California ranked 7th in the country for hit-and-run accident deaths in 2018. Many of these accidents happen at low speeds in parking lots, the result of driver inattention or inexperience.
If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run, there are a few things to keep in mind when filing damage claims.
If you’ve just suffered a hit-and-run, it’s easy to feel absolutely helpless. Even if you have insurance, your accident and injuries could be expensive to deal with. Fortunately, you aren’t out of luck, and there are things you can do to make filing claims easier.
Don’t leave the scene. Wait for police or medical attention to arrive, if needed.
If you were driving at the time, even if you aren’t directly responsible for the accident, in California you can still be considered a hit-and-run driver if you leave the scene of an accident before law enforcement arrives. This also makes your account of the accident less convincing to your insurance company, and they may use it against you.
Don’t pursue the other driver.
Road rage over an accident doesn’t resolve anything, and puts you and everyone else on the road at greater risk. Don’t make a bad situation worse than it already is!
Talk to witnesses and get their accounts of what happened.
You may not have info on the vehicle that hit you, but someone else might. If you can, write it down somewhere. If you need to hire an attorney, those witnesses will be valuable if your case has to go to court.
Stay in regular contact with law enforcement.
If there’s a lack of witnesses, or if available footage of the accident is limited, it can take weeks before a hit-and-run driver is identified and arrested. Call the police for updates on your accident. Remember that they will have more immediate access to any traffic camera footage, and will also look into any possible security cameras that could have captured your hit-and-run driver.
Consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible, even if the hit-and-run driver has yet to be found.
When drivers fail to stop after an accident, the financial burden is placed on you and your insurance. It also seemingly limits your legal options, and many victims are hesitant to call a lawyer, even if their insurance starts to push back on their claim. Fortunately, the growing prevalence of traffic and surveillance cameras has made catching these runners easier, giving law enforcement and attorneys a potent weapon against hit-and-run drivers.
A good example of this happened in February 2019, when a seven-year-old girl in Santa Rosa was struck by an unidentified black sedan. She survived with minor injuries, but the driver fled the scene within seconds of the impact. A nearby home security camera captured the accident, and after a plea to the public and viral social media campaigns, an arrest was made on February 19th.
Not only does the law have more means to identify hit-and-run drivers on the road, the drivers around you can also pitch in. With cell phone cameras commonplace, there’s a good chance that a witness to your accident may have snapped a photo of the other driver’s vehicle, or even captured video.
This also means that a car accident attorney can better help you hold the other driver responsible for your accident. If your insurance company does start to challenge your claims, a lawyer will be able to use photo and video evidence to support you. If the other driver does get caught, it will be very difficult for them to refute this evidence of their actions!
You can file a claim against a hit-and-run driver, even if they didn’t actually hit you.
Imagine if someone were to cut you off during your morning commute, and you swerve to avoid what you believe was an imminent accident. Without intending to, you crash into another vehicle or a power pole. You might feel otherwise at the time, but the driver that cut you off is the cause of your accident.
Even if that driver didn’t hit you, reckless driving is a violation of Vehicle Code section 23103, and the penalties grow more severe if the accident they caused results in bodily injury. If they are caught, you can file claims against them and their insurance.
California law requires certain levels of insurance, but are your policies enough for a hit-and-run accident?
We highly recommend to all drivers that they review their insurance plans and seek coverage that is better than the legal minimum. California law requires two types of coverage: bodily injury liability, and property damage liability.
On paper, this sounds great, but in practice this often means that most drivers are under-insured, or simply don’t have any of the coverage they need. These insurance plans only cover injuries and property damage for accidents you are at fault for, but do NOT cover damage to your vehicle, property, or even your own injuries!
Think of it this way: if you can’t afford to replace your car right now, then you probably want to consider an insurance policy better suited for a serious accident. Comprehensive collision coverage will help with the repairs of a car damaged by a hit-and-run. Many insurers also offer uninsured and/or under-insured motorist plans, which can help if the hit-and-run motorist is found, but has poor insurance coverage. Other companies offer medical payments options that can help cover part of your initial treatments.
Whether the hit-and-run driver is found or not, a personal injury lawyer can still help you with your claims.
Hit-and-runs can happen in a moment, but injuries and the resulting bills can affect you for months or years after the fact. The longer you wait, the more difficult it can be to track down the evidence you need to hold the hit-and-run driver accountable. Consulting with a car accident lawyer can help you better understand what your options are and what information you need if you intend to file a claim.
We have worked with independent experts to recreate accidents, and are intimately familiar with the process of tracking down video footage from surveillance and traffic cameras. If an insurer is contesting your claims, or your case needs to go to court, we can give you the best chance of recovering damages.