Hit and Run Car Accidents: Who Pays?

Your own insurance company could be on the financial hook for your injuries and vehicle damage after a car accident, but only if you have the right coverage.

You’re side-swiped on the highway and the other driver speeds away. Or maybe you return to your car in the parking lot after doing some grocery shopping, only to find a huge dent in your bumper and no note on your windshield. A hit and run car accident can leave you with injuries, vehicle damage, or both. It can also leave you asking, "Who’s going to pay for this?" The answer may be your own car insurance coverage, but there are a whole host of factors to consider.

Usually, drivers purchase car insurance in order to make sure they're covered if they end up causing a car accident in which someone else (another driver, a passenger, a pedestrian, etc.) is injured or incurs property damage. This is called "liability" car insurance, and in most states it's the only type of car insurance that vehicle owners are required to carry. But since you don’t know the identity of the other driver in a hit-and-run accident -- let alone their insurance information -- their liability insurance (if they have it) isn't going to come into play.

Let’s look at a few of your best options for financial recovery after a hit and run car accident.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage

In many states, an insurer is required to at least offer a minimal amount of uninsured motorist coverage to policy purchasers, who must decline UIM in writing if they don't want it. (In a few states drivers are required to carry a certain level of UIM coverage).

Uninsured motorist coverage typically provides financial compensation if you're injured and/or incur vehicle damage in a car accident caused by someone who is driving without car insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage provides similar protection if the at-fault driver's policy limits are less than your financial losses.

UIM would also probably be your primary source of protection in the event of a hit-and-run accident. Assuming that the other driver cannot be found, you should report the accident to both local law enforcement and your insurance company within a reasonable period of time. The name and contact information for an objective car accident witness will be a big help, as you'll need to provide some basic proof related to the crash.

In addition to any minimal amount of UIM coverage your state may require you to carry, you can usually purchase additional coverage up to the limits of your liability coverage. For example, if your policy carries liability limits of 100,000/300,000 ($100,000 per person/$300,000 in the aggregate for more than one injured person), you could purchase 100,000/300,000 of uninsured coverage for an additional premium. This may end up being a wise investment if you’re involved in a hit-and-run accident.

PIP Coverage

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage pays for medical expenses and lost wages for the insured driver (and anyone else covered under the policy) after a car accident, regardless of who caused the crash.

If you are the victim of a hit-and-run, you could probably make a claim under the PIP coverage in your own policy -- but keep in mind that doing some may increase your rates in some instances. One additional caveat: PIP coverage can’t be used for damage to your vehicle, and it usually won’t cover things like "pain and suffering" and emotional distress related to the accident. Your PIP limits may be pretty low as well, especially when compared to your liability coverage limits.

PIP coverage is typically available in many states as add-on coverage, depending on where you live and which car insurance company you choose. And in states that follow a no-fault car insurance system, PIP is part of your required coverage.

Collision Coverage

When all else fails, you can make a claim against your own policy under your collision coverage after a hit-and-run accident. This would at least cover the cost to repair or replace your vehicle (up to coverage limits, of course), but will in all likelihood cause your premiums to increase. So, your decision to go this route may depend on the extent of the damage and the cost of repairs.

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