One of the worst kinds of accidents is a hit and run. They do not always cause catastrophic injuries and a lot of damage, but not knowing who hit you and not having the ability to recover damages from the hit-and-run driver’s insurance company means that you often have to fight with your own insurance company. And, if you do sustain severe or catastrophic injuries, you may lose the chance to collect many of the damages you deserve. Learn more about hit and run accidents from our auto accident lawyers.
Locating the Hit-and-Run Driver
Minutes after a hit-and-run wreck, you might feel dejected as you think that you will have a ton of hassle in recovering damages. However, you can take some steps to help the police identify a hit-and-run driver if your injuries permit you to take immediate action. Locating a hit-and-run driver is sometimes easier than you might think. Since leaving the scene of an accident is often a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for the second or another subsequent offense, depending on the laws of the state, you are not the only person looking for the vehicle that hit you. Unfortunately, some people would rather face the consequences of a hit-and-run rather than take responsibility for the damage they caused. You can take some actions after a car accident to increase the chances of finding the irresponsible driver, including:
- Contact the police to notify them of a hit-and-run and file a police report. If you suffered injuries, ask the police to investigate the accident as a crime.
- Locate any witnesses. They might be able to give you a license number, a description of the driver, and/or a description of the vehicle. Check with businesses and residences in the area even if people were not outside. When speaking to people, ask them if they have video cameras that might have caught the accident.
- Ask other drivers who stopped to help if they have video cameras in their vehicles or happened to catch the accident on their phones.
- If you or someone else obtained the hit-and-run driver’s license number, give it to the police. You can also do an owner search at the Department of Motor Vehicles to find the owner of the vehicle. Keep in mind that the owner might not have been the driver, but it is a lead.
- Surveillance cameras set up by the city or county could have recorded the accident. Ask the Department of Transportation to check their street surveillance cameras or “remind” the police investigators to check them.
- Post a request on local groups on social media. Someone might know the person who hit you. And sometimes, the hit-and-run driver might not have known that he or she hit you and will come forward.
- Take photos of the accident scene, including the damage to your vehicle and others’ property.
In many cases, a person flees an accident because he or she does not have a license, does not have insurance, was driving under the influence, or has a warrant out for his or her arrest. While you could recover damages from your own insurance company, the compensation you can recover is often limited. The police will use the above tools and more to locate a hit-and-run driver. Sometimes, the driver falls right onto their laps. If the police issue “be on the lookout” (BOLO), other police officers will watch for anyone or vehicle that might meet the description you give them.
What You Should Look for in a Hit-and-Run Accident
After an accident, you are probably more concerned with how injured you and your loved ones are. However, if you can, try to take note of the vehicle that hit you. The easiest thing to notice is the color. Since most cars look the same, you might have difficulty discerning the make and model, but give it a good guess if you cannot see the badging on the vehicle. Additionally, if you take note of the license plate, it is much easier for the police to find the driver. Finally, if you can get a good look at the driver, remember features such as hair color, whether the driver is male or female, facial hair, glasses or not, and clothing type and color. While a full description is better, remembering just one thing about the person driving can help the police find the hit-and-run driver.
After a Hit-and-Run Accident
Once the police release you from the scene, or once you can make phone calls, even from the hospital, you should contact your insurance company to let it know that you are going to file a claim. When you speak to the insurance company, give it your name, contact information, policy number, date and location of the accident, and your attorney’s contact information.
Why You Should Not Give an Insurance Company More Information
Insurance companies are in business to make money. Thus, any claim they pay out means less profit for them. Insurance companies are known for their shenanigans to deny claims or offer as little as possible. Sometimes what they offer will not even cover your medical expenses. One of the more common tricks an insurance company uses is to get you to talk about the accident. Even though you might not be at fault, the insurance company will twist what you tell it in an attempt to deny your claim. Barring that, it will offer you a pittance. Car accident lawyers know this and other tricks that insurance companies use. Because of an attorney’s experience with insurance companies, the attorney is less likely to phrase something in a manner that the insurance company can twist. Because of this, insurance companies are less likely to pull their shenanigans on an attorney. Additionally, insurance companies know that you are more likely to litigate your case if you have an attorney—and that costs more than offering you a fair and reasonable settlement. As soon as you notify your insurance company of the accident, contact your attorney to help you with the hit-and-run accident. Give your attorney the facts of the accident, any evidence you gathered, a copy of the police report, and your insurance company’s contact information. If the insurance company gave you a case number, provide the case number to your attorney.
Injuries You Could Sustain in a Hit-and-Run Accident
The injuries you could sustain in a hit-and-run accident vary depending on the severity of the accident. You might sustain no injuries, or you could die in a hit-and-run accident. Injuries could include:
- Bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes, and scratches.
- Road rash.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled muscles, torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries.
- Simple or compound fractures.
- Crushed bones.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Chemical and/or thermal burns.
You could also sustain secondary injuries, such as an infection of an open wound, whether you sustained the wound in the accident or after it as a result of surgery. In some cases, if doctors cannot control the infection, it could lead to amputation. Additionally, accident injuries could exacerbate existing conditions and injuries. In this case, the defendant is liable for the medical expenses and pain and suffering for making existing injuries and conditions worse.
After an accident that is not your fault, you could recover damages. However, with a hit-and-run, you do not know the driver that hit you. This forces you to use your own health and vehicle insurance to cover injuries. However, the insurance company does not jump at the chance to pay all of the damages you might deserve. It will cover medical expenses and lost wages, but may not cover non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. If you or the police locate the hit-and-run driver, you could collect more damages from the driver and/or his or her insurance company. You could recover two types of damages: Compensatory damages and punitive damages.
The court orders compensatory damages, which are broken down into two types, to make you whole again. While compensatory damages do not bring back a loved one killed in a hit-and-run accident nor make you recover faster, they significantly reduce the financial stress of not working and not having the ability to pay bills and put food on the table.
Special damages, often called economic damages, have a monetary value. Someone—you or an insurance company—pays these out of pocket. Economic damages include:
You could collect medical expenses for those you incur from the time of the accident through the time you settle or win a trial award. If doctors expect your injuries to cause long-term or permanent disabilities, you could recover future medical damages. Medical expenses include, but are not limited to:
- Surgeries, including future surgeries for injuries sustained in a hit-and-run accident.
- Doctors’ appointments, including surgical follow-up appointments and general appointments related to your injuries.
- Prescription expenses.
- Expenses for ambulatory aids.
- Physical therapy.
- Occupational therapy.
- Cognitive and other psychological therapies.
- The cost for purchasing and installing hand controls and wheelchair carriers or ramps for your vehicle.
- Updates to your home, such as adding a wheelchair ramp, grab bars, and widening doors.
When you suffer injuries in a hit-and-run accident, those injuries could prevent you from working. If you go back to work before a settlement or winning a trial award, you could collect lost wages. However, if your injuries caused long-term or permanent disabilities, you could recover lost earning capacity for the time from the settlement through the time you would normally retire. Even if you return to work but cannot earn as much as you did before the accident, you could recover partial lost earning capacity.
After a hit-and-run accident, you could recover compensation to cover damaged or destroyed personal property, including your vehicle and anything of value in your vehicle, such as cell phones, computers, and clothing.
If you lost a loved one in a hit-and-run accident, you could recover funeral expenses, burial expenses, and cremation expenses. You could also recover additional expenses, such as court filing fees for probate court.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have a firm monetary value and may include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress. If you lost a loved one in a hit-and-run accident, you could also recover compensation for your emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make lifestyle changes, including taking prescription medications or using ambulatory aids for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy or take part in family events and activities.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part such as a leg or a finger.
- Loss of use of a bodily function such as your bladder or eyesight.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you normally do, including grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home repair and maintenance.
- Amputation of a limb or digit.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.
In some cases, the court might order the defendant to pay punitive damages. The court must find the defendant’s actions or inactions grossly negligent or intentional. Instead of making you whole, as with compensatory damages, the court orders the defendant to pay punitive damages to punish the behavior in hopes that the defendant does not repeat his actions or inactions. A defendant could face criminal charges in addition to the civil charges you file. If the state decides to prosecute the defendant, you usually do not recover compensation from the criminal trial—you must file the civil action to recover damages. For that, you’ll want to hire a car accident lawyer near you.