Fleeing the scene of a hit and run accident is a crime. In most states, felony hit and run occurs when somebody flees an accident after injuring somebody else. The penalties if you are caught include fines and incarceration. If you are caught fleeing a hit and run in which somebody was injured, you may also be sued in civil court by the injured person. In some states, you may have to pay additional damages to the plaintiff for fleeing the scene of the crash. This additional sum may not be covered by your car insurance policy, and you might have to pay it yourself.
If you are the injured victim of a hit and run, you should preserve all evidence of the accident and cooperate with the police in their investigation of who hit you. You may want to note down any physical details of the car and the driver that you saw before the driver left the scene. Memory can be unreliable. Writing the information down can help ensure that what you tell the police is accurate so that the other driver is caught.
Explore Justia’s Criminal Law Center
A driver may face both civil and criminal liability for a hit and run. For more information about criminal hit and run offenses, including a driver’s responsibilities, visit Justia’s Hit and Run Offenses page in the Criminal Law Center.
Legal Recourse After a Hit and Run Accident
When you are hurt in a hit and run accident, you cannot take legal action unless the police find the driver responsible for the crash. Even if the hit and run driver is found and identified, you may not be able to recover any damages if that driver is uninsured or underinsured. While you can bring a lawsuit against an uninsured or underinsured driver, this does not mean you will be able to recover damages. You can only recover damages from somebody who has assets, such as real estate, money in the bank, or high-value personal property such as art or jewelry. Many hit and run drivers have not purchased insurance because they do not have money or assets.
The likelihood of a plaintiff receiving punitive damages against a driver for a hit and run accident is high, considering the fact that fleeing the scene is almost always morally reprehensible. However, uninsured motorist coverage may not cover punitive damages.
If the other driver is uninsured, do you have to pay the medical bills after a crash yourself? In some cases, you will have to pay these yourself. However, you may be able to make an uninsured motorist claim against your own insurer. In many states, insurers are required to provide uninsured motorist coverage in the automobile insurance policies they offer, unless the motorist has specifically elected in writing not to keep that type of coverage.
The value of uninsured motorist coverage is that it stands in for any driver who is uninsured or for a hit and run driver. The personal injury victim can make a claim with the insurer, rather than the other driver. If the accident falls within the coverage offered, the uninsured motorist coverage pays the damages that the at-fault driver would have paid had he or she been appropriately insured.
An insurance company that offers a policy including uninsured motorist coverage that applies to your injury, but refuses to honor its obligation to pay, may be sued for bad faith. All insurance companies have an obligation to act in good faith to honor their insurance contracts. In a bad faith suit, the insurance company may not only have to pay the damages it should have paid under the contract, but also punitive damages for its wrongful conduct.