When a driver flees the scene of a hit and run accident they are actively committing a crime, potentially a felony. The legal consequences for causing a hit and run accident may include specific penalties that can be incurred if another driver, biker, or pedestrian is hit and therefore sustain serious injuries. This writeup will explore the options available to those involved in hit and run accidents, and why these accidents do not immediately disqualify them from seeking legal recourse for their pain and suffering.
The penalties incurred when another motorist or a pedestrian is injured and the driver who caused the injuries leaves the scene can potentially include incarceration (jail time) in addition to any financial penalties they incur for such reckless actions. When a victim or their loved one becomes injured in a hit and run, they must do their best to preserve any evidence (with assistance from law enforcement, as safety permits) of the accident scene.
Cooperation with law enforcement is also necessary to bring the criminal who caused the accident to justice. Refusing to speak with law enforcement out of fear will only allow a criminal with a dangerous driving record to remain on the street, where they can harm or even cause the death of another person. Unfortunately for those drivers or pedestrians injured in a hit and run, no legal (in some cases criminal) action can be brought against the other driver unless the police are able to locate them. If and when the driver is located (never attempt to locate the driver–leave that to law enforcement) there still may not be able to be legal action brought against them.
The realities of reckless driving
This reality is due in part to reckless drivers not carrying a motor vehicle insurance policy, or being so underinsured there is no route to obtaining compensation from their insurance company. While this lack of insurance enforces the evidence of their lack, it also leaves little in the way of legal recourse–or does it? Insurance companies want accident victims to believe that after an accident involving a hit and run driver, they’re out of options to provide financial compensation. This is far from the truth! Keep reading to learn more about this secret the insurance companies hope to keep from hit and run victims.
Financial compensation after a hit and run is possible
So what happens in a devastating situation where a victim is injured, but the driver who caused those injuries made the decision to remain uninsured? Unless the driver has assets such as homes, other cars, or cash there is no legal recourse to be able to sue the driver, and even then, it’s an uphill battle that many experienced lawyers will not risk. That doesn’t mean a lawyer will turn down the case, or send an obviously injured accident victim out the door; the most experienced lawyers can provide another option to clients after a thorough initial consultation on the details of the case. What a Board Certified lawyer will advise when agreeing to take a hit and run case is this important piece of information: the victim (and their lawyer) must make an Uninsured Motorist claim against the victim’s insurer.
Floridians shouldn’t forget the financial pitfalls of going uninsured
In the state of Florida, an Uninsured Motorist claim filed against the victim’s insurance policy will help offset or possibly even eliminate most of the medical expenses, vehicle repair, and lost wages incurred as a result of the accident. Each case is different and dependent upon the circumstances surrounding the case.
In the case of purchasing insurance coverage, however, there are some important things to consider when selecting the Uninsured Motorist policy that fits a driver’s lifestyle as well as their budget: preparing for the worst-case scenario is always in the driver’s best interest. It’s better to have more coverage than a driver needs than to lack the proper coverage and find themselves in a situation where that coverage could’ve been useful. In states with high rates of “bad” and uninsured drivers such as Miami (where next to no one has car insurance, or at the very least, not nearly enough), New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago it’s important for drivers to safeguard themselves and their families by purchasing as much and as extensive insurance coverage as they find financially feasible.
A refresher on the road
As we laid out in What Drivers Really Need to Know there are two main types of Uninsured Motorist coverage that drivers should take into consideration, and obtain both if they are financially able to do so:
- Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage (also known as “UMBI”): this type of insurance covers any injury-related expenses–from lost wages to medical expenses–it even covers the ambulance if a driver requires transport to a hospital. This level of insurance can protect a driver should the accident turn out to be a hit and run, and the other driver is not able to be located, as is often the case.
- Uninsured motorist property damage coverage (also known as “UMPD”): this type of insurance covers anything that happens to a vehicle in the event of an accident that causes severe damage or the vehicle is totaled. This type of insurance, however, does not cover any damage, to vehicle or property, nor does it cover medical expenses for injuries sustained in a hit and run accident.
Preparation is key
There are three main reasons why drivers would be in a situation that required Uninsured Motorist coverage:
- After an accident, the driver at-fault doesn’t have enough-or any-insurance coverage. In the case of a hit and run the driver may not even be able to located, leaving an injured victim with little legal recourse outside of bringing litigation against their own insurance company given they carry Uninsured Motorist coverage.
- Uninsured Motorist coverage essentially eliminates the necessity that the victim pay for an accident for which they were not at-fault, the other driver did not have insurance, or the other driver fled the scene of the accident and cannot be located.
- In states with high rates of uninsured drivers or “bad” drivers, coverage can often cost more but is necessary to ensure the safety of drivers and their families in the event that one of these uninsured or “bad” drivers causes an accident in which that driver was not at-fault.
So what’s the difference–legally–between an accident in which the driver at-fault flees the scene and an accident in which the driver abides by the law and remains on the scene to exchange information with the victim?
When a driver gets into a car accident and exchanges information with another driver, they normally file a claim with the driver-at-fault’s insurance company and usually, their medical expenses and car repairs are covered in a matter of days or weeks; the process does not have a set time frame and can differ widely depending on the severity of the accident in question. The other driver’s insurer then repairs the damaged vehicle, or if it’s totaled, the insurer will cover the cost of the car (either in full or in part depending on the policy), the medical expenses (again, in full or in part depending on what the policy stipulates).
However, in the event of an accident in which the driver flees the scene and does not exchange information with the victim, leaving them injured and their vehicle in disrepair or totaled, the legal action able to be taken is less straightforward (although no legal action after an accident is ever “straightforward”). The only real legal recourse a victim has in the event they become injured by a reckless driver who attempts to evade justice is to retain a Board Certified civil trial lawyer and bring a lawsuit against the victim’s own insurance company citing their Uninsured Motorist policy in order to recover the financial losses they’ve incurred as a result of the recklessness of another.
The most important thing to remember is that the more insurance a driver has, the better. Even if they don’t ever have to use it, it’s there/to safeguard the driver and their loved ones against any possible accident that can occur due to someone else’s reckless driving or less than pristine driving record. In the event the driver at-fault flees the scene of an accident, an Uninsured Motorist policy would be the only legal recourse a victim has to recover any damages.