Important legal issues to consider in a hit and run accident
Being in a car accident can be overwhelming, especially for the person who caused the crash. It is so overwhelming at times that fear can swamp common sense and lead a person to leave the scene of the accident. This is known as hit and run, and it is a serious criminal offense in most states.
If you got in a car accident and fled the scene, you may be wondering about your legal rights. Or, if you were hit by a hit and run driver, you also will have many legal questions. This article describes the critical legal factors to understand in these types of accidents, personal injury settlement information, as well as possible defenses.
Hit and Run Overview
Most states, such as California, mandate that drivers must stop right away after an accident to provide contact information, driver’s license and insurance data to the other driver. This is regardless of who was at fault. When drivers fail to do so, they can face a felony or misdemeanor hit and run charge. Which type of offense depends upon the details of the crash.
In a hit and run where there were no or minor injuries, the driver will likely be charged with a misdemeanor. But if another person is seriously injured, there could be a felony charge.
Most drivers who run from the accident scene do so because they fear being arrested for another offense. That is why many suspects may be dealing with several charges, including DUI, driving under suspension, reckless driving, driven a stolen car or reckless driving.
A person who has fled the scene of an accident and is facing other charges should speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately. The less that person says to law enforcement without legal counsel, the better.
Common Hit and Run Defenses
An experienced hit and run lawyer will work with the accused craft the best defense for the alleged crime. Below are some defenses that can be effective. It is important to converse with a strong defense attorney as soon as you can after the arrest so they can begin to mount an aggressive defense.
- Not the person driving the car. Only the driver may be charged for the crime. If the criminal defense attorney can show that another person was driving, this is a strong defense.
- Did not leave the scene willingly. Perhaps you were knocked out during the crash and a passenger shoved you from the driver’s seat and hit the gas. The hit and run accident did happen when you were driving, but in this case, the failure to stop was not an intentional act on your part.
- Did not intentionally fail to provide information to the other driver. You have to give the other driver address, name and insurance information, as well as any police who come to the scene. But if you could not exchange information, this could be an effective defense. For instance, if you are hurt in an accident and are unconscious, a passenger might take you to the hospital. If you were incapacitated while leaving the scene, failure to provide required information was not a willful act.
- Unaware of damage. Many hit and run accidents involve the critical element of ‘knowing’ or ‘reasonably should have known’ that the accident caused damage. For instance, if you rear end another vehicle and neither party notices any damage, you may drive away. But the police could subsequently charge you with hit and run after the other driver finds damage on the bumper. A strong criminal defense attorney could argue you did not know the other vehicle was damaged.
- Unaware of injuries. If you did not know that injury or death resulted from the accident, this could be a strong defense. Some injuries do not become readily apparent until hours or days after the accident. Your attorney may argue that it is unreasonable to expect that you would have known about another person’s injuries that did not show themselves until after the incident.
- Could not provide ‘reasonable assistance.’ If you were unable to offer assistance to the injured person, you cannot be convicted for a hit and run. For example, you might hit another car on a rural road. Several people are hurt, but you cannot exit your vehicle due to damage. Then you drive off to get help. Because you could not offer assistance, your criminal defense lawyer may argue that your best option was to leave the accident scene to get help.
Hit and Run Lawsuit Settlements
The above information concerns the defendant who fled the scene of the accident and the potential criminal charges involved. But remember that a hit and run accident can involve both a criminal and civil case. Regardless of how the criminal case is resolved, the driver can face a personal injury claim for the damages and injuries that the victim suffered. Below is information about personal injury settlements that often follow hit and run accidents.
Usually, the driver who flees the scene is considered at fault for the accident. If and when that driver is caught, that person or their insurance company may be sued. But there are many cases where the at-fault driver lacks insurance; this is one of the common reasons they leave the scene of the crash.
If the driver is not found, the burden is on the victim to recover damages from the accident. This means that you need to file a claim on your own insurance policy. But for that claim to be successful, you have to have uninsured motorist coverage on your auto insurance policy.
It is important to inform your lawyer if you have UM coverage. Otherwise, you could pay a lot of money out of pocket for damages that the hit and run driver caused.
Hit and run compensation for civil lawsuits often will include your medical costs, lost wages, and mental and physical pain and suffering. Another possibility is property damage. How much you can recover on a UM claim depends upon the limits of your policy.
One of the problems with a UM claim in a hit and run case is that your own insurance company may try to delay, underpay or deny such claims. Your own insurer may make a low ball offer for your injuries. If that is the case, you should strongly consider hiring a personal injury attorney to negotiate on your behalf.
There are two sorts of damages that you can win in these personal injury claims: compensatory and punitive. The former is intended to compensate you for the various expenses from the crash. These damages are not given to you as a judgment of the recklessness of the defendant.
Punitive damages are intended to punish the other driver for their bad behavior. In a hit and run, the only way that punitive damages can be obtained is if the other driver is found. A jury may give the plaintiff punitive damages if the actions of the defendant led to harm and such actions were intentional and reckless. When a driver leaves the scene, punitive damages can come into play. But some states do limit the amount of punitive damages that you can receive.
A major factor in the amount of the settlement is what your pain and suffering is worth. There are two categories to consider:
- Current pain and suffering that covers what you have suffered until now
- Future pain and suffering is what you will deal with in the future as you recover from your injuries
Pain and suffering has to be in one of these areas. Proving pain and suffering in the past can be easier, as you can show medical bills and medical reports about previous appointments. To prove future pain and suffering, it is important to have a statement from a medical professional about what you face in the future as the recovery progresses.
Average Hit and Run Settlement Info
Victims of a hit and run accident with serious personal injuries will speculate what an average settlement will look like. This will vary depending upon the type and severity of the crash.
Here are some real-life hit and run accident settlements to provide you with a ballpark idea:
- $185,000: A woman in Washington state was severely injured after a drunk driver slammed into her car head on. The driver took off and was eventually caught by other drivers.
- $100,000: An uninsured motorist claim was made for a man in Illinois who had serious should injuries when a tractor trailer hit his car and left the scene.
- $105,000: A man in California was hit as he was walking across the street. The driver was not found, but the man was able to make a UM claim on his own auto insurance policy.
Have Questions? Talk to a Hit and Run Lawyer or Personal Injury Lawyer
Whether you are the driver who fled the accident scene, or have been injured by a hit and run driver yourself, you need to speak to an attorney about your case. A defendant in a hit and run case faces serious criminal charges that could land them in jail for a long time. And the victim of a hit and run could have serious, expensive injuries that they cannot afford to pay for without a personal injury settlement. In both cases, good legal representation is necessary.