Hit and Run Accidents Don't Disqualify Victims From Recovering Damages: Here's How It Works
When a motorist leaves the scene of a hit-and-run accident they are actively committing a felony. This felony for leaving the scene doesn't even include the penalties that can be incurred if another driver or pedestrian is injured in the accident. The penalties sustained when another motorist or a pedestrian is injured and the driver who caused the injuries flees the scene often includes incarceration (jail time) on top of any fines they incur for their reckless actions. When a victim or their loved one becomes the victim of a hit-and-run they must preserve any evidence (when safety allows) 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 motorists or pedestrians injured in a hit-and-run, no legal 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.
A reckless driving reality
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. This lack of insurance enforces the evidence of their lack of care on the road (they put the public at-risk when they don't carry the correct amount of, or any, insurance).
Regardless of the obvious crime they committed, without a car insurance policy, there is no way for litigation to be brought against them in civil proceedings. So what happens next? Unless the driver has assets such as homes, other cars, or cash there is no legal recourse to be able to sue them, and even then, it's an uphill battle that many attorneys will not risk. What a board certified attorney will advise when taking a hit-and-run case is this important piece of information: the victim and their attorney must make an Uninsured Motorist claim against the victim's insurer.
There is legal recourse available
An Uninsured Motorist claim filed against the victim's insurance policy will help offset the medical expenses, vehicle repair, and lost wages incurred as a result of the accident. There are a couple of important things to consider when selecting the Uninsured Motorist coverage that fits a driver's lifestyle and 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 oneself in a situation where that coverage could've been useful. In states with high rates of "bad" drivers such as Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago it's important for drivers to safeguard themselves and their families by purchasing as much insurance as they are able to afford.
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.
It's all about being prepared
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 motor vehicle accident and exchanges information with the other 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, 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 board certified legal counsel and bring a lawsuit against the victim's own insurance company citing their Uninsured Motorist policy.
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.