A “hit and run” refers to a vehicle or pedestrian accident where one or more drivers flee the scene before exchanging contact information with the other driver. From intersections to parking lots, hit and run accidents can happen anywhere, even if you aren’t in the vehicle.
Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime under California law, but hit and runs still make up roughly 11-12% of all crashes and 5-6% of all crash fatalities (AAA).
Recovering after a hit and run car accident is an uphill battle for some victims. Who do you recover damages from when you can’t identify the person who hit you?
Fortunately, the car accident attorneys at PARRIS Law Firm can fight for you. Read more about what to do in a hit and run in California—and how PARRIS can help you recover.
What Is a Hit and Run Under California Law?
Any driver—regardless of fault—who flees the scene of a car accident without leaving contact information may have committed a hit and run.
California Vehicle Code § 20001 and 20002 lay down the law regarding hit and runs in California. If a person causes property damage to someone else – whether it be another vehicle, a fence, or someone’s pet – they must stop at the nearest safe location and provide the other party with their name, address, and vehicle registration number. If the other party is not present at the scene, a written notice left in a conspicuous place on the damaged property will suffice.
Failure to stop or leave appropriate contact information is a misdemeanor, and criminal penalties for not complying include:
- A fine of $1,000 or less,
- Up to six months in jail,
- Three years of probation,
- Restitution for damaged property, and
- Two points on their California driving record.
If a driver injures or kills another person and flees the scene, the crime becomes a felony. If caught, the defendant could face:
- A fine of up to $10,000,
- Up to a year or more in jail,
- Restitution to the injured victim, and
- Two points on their California driving record.
Most importantly for recovering damages, a driver found at fault for a hit and run is also civilly liable to the victim for any injuries they cause. If you are left with injuries under a hit and run accident, you may be able to take legal action against the wrongdoer with the help of a car accident attorney, while your local government files criminal charges against them.
What to Do After a Hit and Run in California
The steps to take after a hit and run are similar to those you would take after any car accident. If you are in a hit and run, here’s what to do:
- If applicable, try and get as much information from the fleeing driver’s vehicle as possible. This includes the car’s color, make, and model, any unique markings on the car, or any of the driver’s physical characteristics that you could see.
- Call 911. A hit and run is a crime, and calling the police allows you to report it. This also allows you to report your accident and help you get any medical care you need.
- Take pictures and video of the entire accident scene, the damage to your vehicle, and your injuries.
- Get contact information for any witnesses.
- Take note of any security cameras around the accident scene.
- Inform your insurance company of any injuries or damage to your vehicle.
- Call a car accident attorney as soon as possible to make sure you get the recovery you need.
Your Insurance Options After a Hit and Run in California
You should not be responsible for any expenses incurred in a hit and run accident. However, your recovery options (and your legal options) vary depending on the circumstances of your accident and the subsequent criminal investigation.
If the at-fault driver is identified, your coverage will depend on whether or not they have insurance. Insured defendants are required to compensate you under the terms of their liability policy. California’s minimum liability insurance requirements provide up to:
- $15,000 in bodily injury coverage per person
- $30,000 in total bodily injury per accident, and
- $5,000 in property damage per accident.
Some hit and run drivers may carry above the minimum, but unfortunately, many hit and run drivers flee the scene because they know they don’t have sufficient insurance coverage.
If the driver is later identified and is uninsured, you may be able to file an injury claim with your own insurance under your uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. Though UM coverage is not required by law in California, your insurance company is required to offer it to you. Your UM coverage will cover the cost of your injuries and, in some cases, lost income, but will not cover any damage to your property.
If you are injured in the accident and the at-fault driver is never identified, you may have multiple coverage options. In most cases, your uninsured motorist coverage can cover the cost of any medical treatment you need, up to your policy limits. If you have med pay coverage, this may also help cover the cost of your medical bills, in conjunction with any health insurance you may have.
If the hit and run accident damages your car, you can file a claim under your collision coverage. Collision insurance covers damage to your vehicle related to driving, regardless of who caused the damage. This coverage is optional in California, but required if you are leasing or financing your car. It is usually subject to a deductible.
Some insurance carriers offer uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) coverage, but this coverage (a) only offers $3,500 in coverage and (b) only applies when the at-fault driver is identified.
California law prevents victims who suffer property damage in a hit and run from filing a property damage claim under their uninsured motorist coverage, so they must use collision or UMPD. However, some collision policies have an uninsured deductible waiver. If the at-fault driver is later identified and found to be uninsured, some insurance carriers will waive the usual collision deductible and pay out the full value of the claim.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer After a Hit and Run in California?
The insurance world is extremely complex. Some insurance companies may use the industry’s complexity to their advantage by choosing not to cover certain types of accidents, including hit and runs. Above all, insurance companies are businesses invested in turning a profit, and paying out less in claims benefits their bottom line.
For this reason, hiring a law firm after a hit and run is crucial. Your insurance company may or may not work in your favor to provide compensation. A car accident attorney fights for your interests alone. Hiring a firm with a success record in dealing with insurance companies can mean the difference between a lowball settlement and a meaningful recovery.
Additionally, a car accident attorney can negotiate medical bills and car repair costs on your behalf, ensuring you aren’t held responsible for payment until you receive your settlement or verdict.
PARRIS Law Firm has fought insurance companies on behalf of hit and run victims since 1985. Of our $1.9 billion in wins for clients, more than 150 cases resulted in a settlement or verdict of $1 million or more. We know what it takes to fight for clients, and we have the resources and skills needed to get the maximum possible recovery for our clients.
Contact PARRIS today if you’ve been hurt in a hit and run. We’re here to help you recover.