Who pays when you’re injured in a hit and run accident? Learn how you can get compensation even if they never find the at-fault driver.
Hit and run car accidents happen when a driver crashes into another vehicle, a pedestrian, or private property, then leaves without identifying themselves or helping the injured.
The number of hit and run crashes has increased yearly since 2006, now up to over 737,000 each year, causing nearly 400,000 injuries and 2,000 fatalities. Most alarming is the big jump in the number of bicyclists and pedestrians killed.¹
The problem is the nature of a hit and run traffic accident. Most drivers aren’t caught – they hit, run, and hide.
In many cases, the driver leaves so quickly the injured victim doesn’t get a good look at the driver or the car before it’s gone. Without identifying information, the driver often gets away.
In the aftermath of the accident, injured victims are naturally stunned and upset. There will be medical treatment and therapy bills piling up while the victim is too hurt to work. They need compensation for their losses.
Hit and run car accidents don’t have to mean financial ruin, even if the guilty driver is never found. Here’s what you need to know about getting compensation.
What To Do After a Hit and Run Accident
What you do immediately after a hit and run crash can protect your physical health and your future claims for compensation. Your actions will create an important record of the accident and serve as evidence that your injuries and property damage are the direct result of a hit and run.
1. Stay Put and Call 911
Stay where you are. Never try to chase the hit and run driver. It’s dangerous for you and could undermine your claim by creating doubt about what happened and where it happened.
Call 911 to report the hit and run. Tell the dispatcher you are injured, and if anyone else is hurt. If you’re on a cell phone, give the dispatcher your cell number in case you’re disconnected. Describe the vehicle that hit you in as much detail as possible.
2. Capture Details About the Car and Driver
Write down everything you can remember about the car and driver who hit you. Dictate everything into your cell phone if you’re too shaky to write. Don’t leave anything out. The police can use every scrap of information to find the at-fault driver. Write or record a separate list of details from any passenger who was in your car.
Record the direction the car was traveling beforehand, if it had just turned a corner, and which way the driver headed after the accident.
Information about the vehicle can include:
- License plate number – even the first or last few digits
- License plate state, logo, or vanity tag
- Vehicle type: Sedan, SUV, Van, Pickup
- Color, make, model, and estimated year
- 4-door or 2-door
- Trailer hitches, luggage, or bike racks
- Missing parts, cracks, dents, broken lights
- Paint markings, decals, bumper stickers
- Colored or missing hubcaps
- Noises: brake or belt squealing, loud muffler
If you have a license plate number, you may be able to locate the owner through the department of motor vehicles. The owner may not have been the driver who hit you, but you may still be able to make an injury claim against the vehicle owner’s insurance.
Details about the driver include:
- Apparent gender
- Estimated age
- Was the driver wearing a hat, glasses?
- Did they have a beard or any other distinguishing features?
- Was the driver smoking?
- Was anything tossed from the car as it fled from the scene?
- Were there passengers in the car? How many?
3. Seek Prompt Medical Attention
Never refuse medical attention at the scene. You could have serious injuries like brain trauma or internal bleeding and not even know it. Shock and distress after a collision can mask injury symptoms.
If you don’t go to the hospital from the scene, have a medical evaluation later that day. See your primary doctor or go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center.
Share every symptom with your medical provider, no matter how minor. Explain that you were the victim of a hit and run accident.
Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can destroy your injury claim. The insurance adjuster will jump at the excuse to deny your claim by arguing that your injuries didn’t happen in the accident.
4. Look for People or Security Cameras that Saw the Accident
Finding an independent witness to the accident may be crucial to your claim. Many insurance companies require an “arms-length third-party” to verify a hit and run car accident before they’ll pay your claim. That means you need someone who has no connection to you to state they saw the accident happen. Testimony from a passenger in your car usually won’t be enough.
Witnesses may have information that will help police track down the hit and run driver. If a helpful person saw the crash, ask them to write down what they saw, including any details about the car or driver.
Knock on doors. Whether in a business or residential area, it’s important to speak with people to see if anyone saw the accident. Maybe someone is familiar with the car or the driver. In smaller neighborhoods, someone may know the driver just from a description of the car.
Ask business owners to check their security cameras. It’s always possible a camera in a business parking lot recorded footage of the car, especially if the driver stopped there around the time of the accident. If the store owner won’t voluntarily release copies of security camera footage, your attorney can issue a subpoena to get it.
5. Gather Evidence At the Scene of the Accident
Photographs and video footage can be convincing evidence in your injury claim and potential future prosecution of the hit and run driver. If you’re able, take as many pictures as possible of your damaged vehicle and the area around the collision.
Get close-up pictures of debris in the road and the damaged area on your vehicle. Paint scrapes and broken car parts from the other car can help with the police and insurance investigation of the collision.
Photographs of your injuries can help an injury claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver. Pictures of your torn and bloodied clothing, twisted bicycle, or you in a hospital bed can all be compelling evidence of your injuries, pain and suffering.
Share your findings with the police and your insurance company. They will be conducting their own investigation into the accident.
Claims and Lawsuits Against the Hit and Run Driver
If the driver or car owner is identified, the hit and run victim can file insurance claims with the driver’s or owner’s auto policy. Victims may also file a civil lawsuit against both the driver and the car owner.
Even if the owner wasn’t driving when the accident happened, unless the car was stolen, their ownership of the car makes them responsible for a portion of the damages. If the at-fault driver was driving a company car, the company’s owner is also liable.
A non-driver owner’s degree of liability depends on whether they:
- Allowed an unlicensed driver to drive their car
- Knew the driver was intoxicated and still allowed them to drive
- Knew the driver had a history of speeding or reckless driving
In those cases, permitting the driver to operate the car is a negligent act. Again, the car owner might not be liable if the car was stolen or taken without permission.
Every driver has a legal duty of care to drive safely and look out for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles. The driver may have already violated traffic laws when they hit you.
Negligent driving is a breach (violation) of the driver’s duty of care. When you have enough evidence to prove the driver’s negligence was the direct cause of the accident and your injuries, the driver and owner must compensate you for your losses.
Compensation from Your Insurance Company
Promptly notify your insurance company immediately after the accident, even if the driver has been arrested. Take the time to read over your insurance policy to refresh your understanding of your coverage types, limits, and deductibles.
Almost every auto insurance policy has a “Notification and Cooperation” clause, which means you agree to tell the insurance company about every accident, and you also agree to cooperate with the company’s investigation.
The clause will look something like this:
“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”
Your liability coverage won’t pay for your injuries or damages from an auto accident. Liability insurance only pays damages sustained by other people if a car crash is your fault. However, you may have other car insurance coverage for your losses.
Types of Insurance Coverage
Collision coverage will pay for property damage to your vehicle no matter who was at fault. You will probably have to pay a deductible, even though you didn’t cause the collision.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, sometimes called Medical Payments or Med-Pay, will help cover you and your passenger’s medical bills after an accident, up to the available limits. PIP coverage is required in no-fault insurance states, but may not be offered in other locations.
Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UIBI)
Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UIBI) coverage might come into play if the costs of your injuries exceed the limits of the at-fault driver’s liability coverage.
You will only be eligible for underinsured motorist coverage if the at-fault driver is found, and the driver’s insurance company paid policy limits for your injuries. Then, UIBI should cover your remaining medical expenses.
Uninsured Motorist (UM)
Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage can be tricky, but it may be your only chance at insurance compensation if the hit and run driver isn’t found or has no insurance.
- Uninsured Motorist Property Damage (UMPD) coverage is not required or offered in every state. Some policies that have UMPD don’t cover hit and runs at all. Others have strict requirements of independent proof that the damage was caused by a hit and run.
- Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UMBI) will pay for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering that result from an accident caused by a driver without car insurance. UMBI will pay for injuries from a hit and run in some states, but not others. You may have to provide independent proof of the accident.
Compensation Through the Justice System
Leaving the scene of an auto accident that caused death or injuries is a crime. In a criminal case, the vehicle’s driver is the responsible party. The driver is prosecuted by the state or federal government, even though the victim is an individual.
If the driver is not the owner, only the driver is criminally liable, except when the driver and owner were breaking the law at the time of the accident. In that case, both are criminally liable.
Victim Compensation Funds
In a criminal case when the driver has no insurance, injured victims may be eligible for financial help from the state’s Victim Compensation program. These funds are available to victims in cases when the hit and run driver had no insurance or personal money to compensate the victim.
Every state has different eligibility guidelines and benefits available for crime victims.
Victim compensation benefits can include:
- Medical expenses, including rehabilitation and counseling
- Travel expenses for medical providers
- Lost wages
- Attorney fees
- Emergency expenses
Requiring Compensation as Condition of Probation
In some cases, the prosecutor might consider offering probation to the driver with the condition that they must pay compensation to the injured person. The driver is then required to pay the victim through monthly installments.
If the driver fails to make a monthly installment, probation is revoked, and they will have to serve out their full sentence in jail.
If the hit and run driver who caused your injuries or property damage is caught, contact the district attorney’s office. Try to speak with the prosecutor assigned to the case, and ask about your ability to get compensation as a victim.
Tell the prosecutor you don’t want the driver offered probation unless that sentence includes compensating you for your damages.
Why Do Drivers Leave the Scene?
Simply put, drivers leave the scene of an accident because they don’t want to get caught. They’re people who place their selfish interests above others.
Hit and run drivers come from a cross-section of society and include students, soccer moms, clerks, business people, bankers, doctors, lawyers, criminals, and more. Their reasons are varied.
Common reasons drivers run from an accident:
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Lack of insurance
- The car is borrowed or stolen
- Suspended driver’s license or no license
- Outstanding arrest warrants
- The driver is in the country illegally
- Possession of stolen property or drugs
- The driver already has multiple traffic tickets and doesn’t want another
- The driver has a company car and doesn’t want the employer to know about the crash
In the wake of the COVID pandemic, there was a surge in accidents caused by illegal street racing. A driver already involved in criminal activity is unlikely to stick around if they run into you during a drag race.
Get the Legal Help You Need
Hit and run car accidents leave the victim in a tough spot. The driver may be uninsured and broke, or may never be found. Dealing with your insurance company is no walk in the park, either. Insurance companies try to avoid paying large injury claims in any case, but hit and run claims are the worst.
If you have PIP and Collision coverage, you should be able to negotiate your injury and property damage claims without an attorney. You won’t have to prove fault, and your compensation will be the total of your actual expenses for medical treatment, lost wages, and car repairs. You will not be able to collect for pain and suffering.
Severely injured victims need an attorney.
Insurance adjusters are trained to be on the lookout for fraudulent claims. They’re automatically suspicious of claims where the at-fault driver can’t be identified, what they call “phantom drivers.”
Unfortunately, hit and run claims raise all kinds of red flags for insurance adjusters. No matter how severely you’re injured, you will have a hard time if your only recourse is uninsured motorist coverage.
Don’t give up, even if the adjuster says you don’t have coverage. Uninsured and underinsured motorist claims are aggressively litigated by personal injury attorneys in many states, winning large settlements for their clients.
Some states require the insurance company to provide UIM or UM coverage unless the policyholder has signed a special waiver form. If the insurance company can’t produce a copy of that form with your signature, your attorney can take them to court to make them pay.
There’s no obligation and no cost for your first consultation, and the attorney gets nothing unless they win your case. It’s in your best interest to contact a personal injury attorney for a free consultation.
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