If another driver hits you and flees the accident scene, you may wonder what to do next. How will you identify the hit and run driver? What rights do you have to compensation? Who will pay for your injuries if law enforcement never finds the at-fault driver?
This page answers those questions and provides guidance to victims of hit and run accidents. Seeking accountability and compensation after a hit and run crash is often challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. A car accident lawyer with experience handling hit and run cases can further advise you on your rights and legal options.
What Is a Hit and Run Accident?
A hit and run accident is a type of motor vehicle accident in which a driver hits another vehicle, pedestrian, or property and then leaves the scene without stopping to provide identifying information or render assistance. The specific laws related to hit and run accidents vary from state to state.
Under California law, the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death must stop at the crash scene, provide identifying information to others involved in the wreck, and assist anyone injured. The driver of a vehicle involved in a collision involving only property damage must stop at the scene and find the owner of the damaged property or leave a conspicuous note containing their contact information. The driver must also report the incident to local law enforcement.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer After a Hit and Run Accident?
If a driver hits you and flees the scene, you should hire a personal injury attorney to help you pursue the compensation and accountability you deserve.
A lawyer can help you by:
- Explaining your legal rights. Hit and run accident victims have legal rights like any other accident victims. However, it can be challenging to advocate for those rights, especially when you cannot find the at-fault driver. A personal injury lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and protect your interests after a hit and run accident.
- Investigating the hit and run accident. Hit and run accident victims often find their cases challenging to investigate, especially if law enforcement has not identified the driver. Personal injury lawyers are highly skilled at investigating complex cases. They can gather evidence to support your claims, such as eyewitness statements, police reports, and surveillance footage, and improve your chances of identifying the hit and run driver.
- Negotiating with insurance companies. Insurance companies are for-profit entities that will look for any excuse to minimize payouts to accident victims. Insurers may use a hit and run accident as an excuse to deny your claim, perhaps by arguing that your policy does not cover that specific type of incident. A personal injury lawyer can review your insurance policy, stand up to the insurance company, and pursue maximum compensation for your injuries.
- Giving you time to focus on your health. First and foremost, you should not worry about a legal case while suffering from your injuries. A personal injury lawyer can shoulder that burden while you focus on your medical treatment.
Steps to Take After a Hit and Run Accident
A hit and run accident can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. It is understandable to feel lost and confused. If you are still trying to figure out what to do, follow these essential steps after the accident.
An experienced attorney for car accident can guide you through these and other steps so that you can focus on your health and well-being.
- Report the accident to the police. Make sure you report the accident to the police. Provide the responding officer with as much information as possible, including the location of the accident, the direction the hit and run driver fled, and any identifying information you captured about the vehicle. The police officer will create a report that could be valuable evidence if you take legal action later.
- Record your recollections. While the event is fresh in your mind, record your memories of the accident. For example, write down anything you remember about the vehicle, such as the make, model, color, number of doors, license plate details, bumper sticks, or other identifying markers. Record what happened before and after the event, including the direction the hit and run driver came from and went.
- Retain evidence. Evidence is essential to proving fault in any accident, including a hit and run accident. Hold onto all evidence related to the incident, including valuable documentation such as medical bills, paystubs, car repair invoices, insurance correspondence, and police officer reports.
- Follow your doctor’s orders. You should see your doctor immediately after a hit and run accident to have your injuries diagnosed and treated. Make sure that you follow your doctor’s care plan and keep all follow-up appointments. Not only will this aid in your recovery, but it also reinforces your claim for compensation for your medical expenses.
Recovering Compensation After a Hit and Run Accident?
A hit and run accident can present challenges to recovering compensation depending on a victim’s insurance policy, state laws, and other factors. However, a personal injury lawyer can help you explore every possible avenue for compensation if another driver hit you and then fled the scene.
Hit and run accident victims may recover compensation from:
- Collision coverage. This coverage pays for car repairs or replacement for the policyholder regardless of who caused the accident. If you cannot identify the hit and run driver, you could file a claim under your collision coverage.
- MedPay. Medical payments coverage (MedPay) is no-fault insurance that covers medical expenses for the policyholder and their passengers injured in a crash, regardless of who is at fault. MedPay is optional in some states, including California. A California hit-and-run victim with MedPay coverage would receive compensation even if they cannot identify the at-fault driver.
- Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. This optional insurance pays for the policyholder and passengers’ injuries if the at-fault driver is not insured or does not have enough insurance. In California, uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI) covers the costs of the policyholder’s injuries when the at-fault driver has no insurance or flees the scene. Uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) covers property damage costs in crashes where the at-fault driver has no insurance. In a hit and run accident, however, this coverage would apply only if law enforcement locates the at-fault driver.
- The at-fault driver’s insurance policy. A hit and run accident victim that locates the at-fault driver may file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance for accident-related losses. A personal injury lawyer can help you quantify the full extent of your losses, file your claim, and negotiate with the insurance company for maximum compensation.
- A lawsuit. In some cases, a personal injury lawsuit filed in civil court may be a victim’s best avenue for seeking maximum compensation. This often occurs after a prolonged but unsuccessful negotiation with the at-fault driver’s insurer. A personal injury lawyer can advise you on whether and when you should consider filing a lawsuit in your hit and run case.
- California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB). In California, CalVCB provides compensation to victims of crimes, including hit and run accidents, but only after they have exhausted every other source of compensation. The CalVCB also limits how much compensation victims can recover for medical treatment, mental health services, income loss, and disability accommodations. Victims must apply for compensation within seven years of the crime. A personal injury lawyer can determine if you meet all of CalVCB’s requirements.
Depending on your available avenue for recovering compensation, your car accident attorney can seek compensatory damages for:
- Medical expenses, including hospital bills, doctor’s appointments, surgeries, diagnostic tests, medications, physical therapy, and medical devices
- Lost income and benefits if you cannot work while healing from your injuries
- Car repairs or replacement
- Loss of future earning capacity if you suffer a permanent injury that prevents you from returning to work or being gainfully employed
- Physical pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Loss of quality of life if you can no longer perform daily tasks or participate in hobbies
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Permanent scarring or disfigurement
Frequently Asked Questions About Hit and Run Accidents
Hit and run accident victims frequently pose the following questions to personal injury lawyers. This page addresses them briefly, but you should contact a personal injury lawyer for an answer tailored to your situation.
How Often Do Hit and Run Accidents Occur?
According to the California Highway Patrol, hit and run accidents injured more than 25,000 people and killed 344 in one recent year. That means that almost every day, a hit and run driver kills one person in California. Every hour, hit and run drivers hurt approximately three people.
Is It a Crime to Hit and Run?
Hitting another vehicle and fleeing the scene can be a serious criminal offense.
Under California law, hit and run drivers face the following penalties depending on the circumstances of the crash:
- An accident resulting in property damage. Up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both
- An accident resulting in injury. Up to one year in prison, a fine between $1,000 and $10,000, or both
- An accident resulting in death or permanent, serious injury (such as the loss or permanent impairment of a bodily member, organ, or function). Two to four years in prison, a fine of $1,000 to $10,000, or both
Hit and run drivers must also pay restitution to the accident victims and receive demerit points on their records. Law enforcement will typically charge an accident resulting in property damage as a misdemeanor. They may charge an accident resulting in injury as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In almost all cases, a hit and run driver who kills someone will face a felony charge.
Why Do Drivers Hit and Run?
A driver may flee the scene of an accident because of:
- Fear. The driver may fear the consequences of the accident, such as getting a ticket, losing their license, or facing criminal charges. Ironically, a driver will face far steeper criminal charges if they flee when compared to the original offense.
- Intoxication. If the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may flee the scene to avoid charges for driving under the influence.
- No insurance. The driver may flee the scene if they do not have insurance. California requires drivers to maintain minimum liability insurance or face penalties. Furthermore, a driver without insurance may fear the financial burden of paying for the victim’s losses.
- Outstanding warrants. If the driver has outstanding warrants, they may flee the scene to avoid law enforcement arresting and taking them into custody.
- Panic. A driver, especially one who is young or inexperienced, may panic and make a bad decision.
Does It Matter if the Driver Never Faces Criminal Charges?
If authorities successfully identify the driver who hit you, you can still pursue compensation from them even if they never face criminal charges. That’s because criminal and civil cases are entirely separate, and it’s possible to file a lawsuit in civil court independent of criminal charges.
If law enforcement identifies the driver, you do not need to wait for prosecutors to charge them with a crime. Instead, contact a personal injury lawyer immediately after a hit and run accident to help you hold the at-fault driver accountable through civil action.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer After a Hit and Run Accident
If you suffered injuries in a hit and run accident, you could have several avenues for compensation. A lawyer for car accident can pursue them on your behalf more efficiently and effectively than you could on your own. Moreover, many offer free consultations and work on contingency, which means they don’t charge a fee unless they recover money for you.
Contact a personal injury law firm in Bakersfield in your area today to learn more about your options.