When you’re injured a car wreck, police often assign blame to either one or both drivers. Even when it’s not clear-cut, auto insurance usually pays about half the cost. (Sure, it might be your policy — but at least you’re not completely out-of-pocket on all those bills!) But what happens if you’re hurt in a hit and run? More to the point, who’s going to pay for the days you missed work in addition to your medical bills? We’ll explain how to get the justice and damages you deserve below.
Step 1: Find & Identify the Driver Who Hurt You
Did you see the license plate on the car involved in your hit and run? If so, report that to the police immediately. Failing to stop and render aid after injuring someone in a hit and run is a crime. If not, did any other witness happen to see the car that fled after your hit and run accident? Lastly, ask the police to check any cameras located around the area. It’s very possible a red-light, security or traffic enforcement camera caught your hit and run accident on video. And while video evidence can put the hit and run driver in jail, witness testimony should also support your case.
Step 2: Find an Experienced Auto Accident Attorney Who Specializes in Hit and Run Cases
The right lawyer will know how to best handle your hit and run claim. In most cases, an attorney will seek criminal charges against the negligent hit and run driver that injured you. The law considers drivers responsible for hit and run accidents negligent in the following ways:
- Failing to stop and render aid to anyone with injuries
- Not exchanging insurance and contact information with other drivers and/or pedestrians
- Failing to alert the police or other emergency services (such as EMTs)
- Some states also require that drivers transport any injured victims to the nearest hospital for medical treatment, if needed
Even if the driver didn’t intend to hurt you or cause the accident, it’s easy enough to prove negligence. That’s because leaving the scene after a hit and run is a deliberate act. While fleeing the accident isn’t always a felony, even a misdemeanor charge shows criminal intent. It’s much easier and faster to resolve your civil claim for damages once a criminal conviction exists. In fact, a criminal conviction is convincing evidence the guilty driver’s legally liable for your injuries.
Step 3: Determine Whether the Hit and Run Driver Has Insurance
Leave this up to your auto accident lawyer. Lawyers have resources to find out this information after identifying the at-fault driver. If the responsible driver has no car insurance, you can still file a civil lawsuit for damages. You can also file a no-fault injury claim with your auto insurer if the accident happened in:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- Washington, D.C.
If you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in the remaining states, you can also get compensation through your auto insurance policy. That said, you can still file a civil claim for punitive damages from the driver that hit you.
Why Hit and Run Accidents May Deliver Bigger Injury Payouts
A lot of people with minor injuries settle directly with auto insurance providers. Others who need hospitalization or surgery choose to sue the responsible driver for damages, which typically include:
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Current as well as future medical expenses
- Damaged or lost property
However, a hit and run is technically a felony in many states. This gives you, the injured party, a unique opportunity to recover punitive as well as actual damages. Punitive damages can add a significant payoff in addition to the money you deserve for your injuries. The law sees punitive damages as a warning — a way to deter others from similar unlawful behavior.
State laws play a role in determining how much money anyone may receive in punitive damages. The United States Supreme Court says you can reasonably expect punitive damages totaling up to 4x your compensatory award amount. If your medical bills, property damage and lost wages add up to $20,000, punitive damages may give you another $80,000. In other words, you could walk away with a $100,000 settlement for your hit and run injury accident!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.