A hit and run accident should never occur. California law requires drivers to stop at the scene of an accident, to exchange names and addresses, and to notify the police. Yet NBC News recently reported that Southern California has suffered an epidemic of hit and run crashes. In the greater Los Angeles area, a hit and run occurs every 18 minutes.
The percentage of hit and run crashes in much higher in Southern California than in other parts of the country. Many of the accidents involve pedestrians, but drivers who strike other vehicles often flee from the scene if their car is still drivable.
What to Do After a Hit and Run
If you are in an accident and the other driver leaves the scene, do whatever you can to gather evidence of the driver's identity. Try to look at the other car's license plate. Write down the number, dictate it to a recording app on your cellphone, or call someone you know and ask them to write it down for you.
Take a picture of the fleeing car if you can. Don't put yourself in danger by running after the car, but if it is safe to get out of your car to take photos, take as many as you can. Most cellphones take reasonably good pictures, and it may be possible to enhance the picture so that license plate is visible. Even if the car is distant, your picture will help the police identify the make and model of the car that hit you.
Report the accident to the police as soon as you can. Describe how it happened. The police should be able to determine whether the fleeing driver's car might have been damaged. By alerting body shops to look for cars of a particular color and make with similar damage, the police may be able to find the other driver. Paint transfers also provide valuable evidence about the car that collided with yours. In some cases, traffic cameras might have captured the accident or the fleeing driver.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
A personal injury lawyer can make sure the police are investigating the accident and looking for the responsible driver. In appropriate cases, the lawyer may want a private investigator to assist in the investigation. A search for witnesses who may have seen the accident can uncover vital evidence.
Even if the police don't have enough evidence to arrest the responsible driver, there may be enough evidence to prove an insurance claim. Civil cases do not require the same amount of evidence as criminal cases. If the evidence shows that another driver probably hit your car, that may be enough evidence to win the case or to convince the driver's insurer to settle.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
If you have uninsured motorist coverage — and you should — you can make a claim against that coverage even if you cannot identify the driver who hit you. You are not required to carry uninsured motorist coverage, but your insurance company is required to offer it to you. Since more than a quarter of all California drivers are uninsured, it is very important for you to protect yourself by purchasing uninsured motorist coverage.
Section 11580.2 of the California Insurance Code requires uninsured motorist coverage to pay for bodily injuries caused by a hit and run driver if all of the following are true:
- There was physical contact between your vehicle and the vehicle that fled from the scene.
- You reported the accident to an appropriate police agency within 24 hours. The city police department is the appropriate agency if the accident occurred within city limits. Otherwise, you can report the accident to the county sheriff or the Highway Patrol.
- You file a claim with your insurance company within 30 days.
A personal injury lawyer can help you prepare the required claim form.
Sometimes a car will be forced off the road by another car that swerves or crosses the center line. The swerving driver might cause an accident by forcing you off the road. If you collide with a guardrail or drive into a ditch, you might sustain serious injuries, even in the absence of physical contact. Lawyers refer to a driver who causes an accident and flees under those circumstances as a “phantom driver.”
Phantom drivers are not regarded as hit and run drivers for the purpose of uninsured motorist coverage. That's because the law requires physical contact between two cars before insurance must cover a hit and run accident.
It is possible to collect damages from a phantom driver if the driver can be identified. The driver can still he held responsible for injuries caused by negligent driving, even in the absence of physical contact. However, identifying the driver is the key to making a recovery.
California car accident lawyers can offer useful advice whenever an accident occurs. Unfortunately, recoveries aren't always possible in hit and run cases. If you protect yourself by purchasing as much uninsured motorist coverage as you can afford, you will maximize your chance of surviving the epidemic of hit and run crashes in Southern California.