Hit and Run Car Accidents: Who Pays?

Find out what to do after a hit-and-run auto accident and what the best option might be to cover your losses and injuries.

By , J.D. | Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney
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  • You're side-swiped on the highway and the other driver speeds away. Or you return to your car in the parking lot after doing some 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, and plenty of unpaid bills.

    Chances are you won't get any money from the hit-and-run driver. So you'll probably have to look to your own auto insurance or health coverage to pay your medical expenses, car repair bill, and lost wages.

    If you don't have the right insurance coverage, these losses might come out of your pocket.

    In this article, you'll learn:

    • what a hit-and-run is, and the costs—both human and financial—of hit-and-run accidents
    • what to do if you've been in a hit-and-run collision, and
    • the options you have to receive compensation for your hit-and-run damages.

    What Is a Hit and Run Accident?

    A hit-and-run accident happens when another driver makes physical contact with you or your vehicle and then doesn't stop to render assistance, or to share contact and insurance information. Hit-and-run accidents include vehicle-on-vehicle (including motorcycle), vehicle-on-bicycle, and vehicle-on-pedestrian collisions.

    The Cost of Hit-and-Run Accidents

    Hit-and-run accidents account for a significant share of all traffic-related injuries and deaths in the United States. We'll look at some of the statistics after we explain what a hit-and-run is and why hit-and-run accidents can cause such financial headaches.

    Why Do Hit-and-Run Accidents Cause Such Financial Problems?

    Liability insurance is a type of auto insurance. It covers your financial responsibility for an accident, paying for personal injuries and property damage you cause. In most states, liability coverage is the only auto insurance required by law.

    After a hit-and-run collision, the fleeing driver's liability insurance should be what covers your injuries and damages. Of course, you don't know if that coverage exists precisely because the hit-and-run driver left the scene. Without liability insurance to reimburse them for their losses, injured victims must look to other sources of recovery.

    Unfortunately, many drivers choose not to buy other kinds of insurance coverage that offer protection for losses caused by a hit-and-run collision. When the worst happens, they find themselves without insurance and must pay the losses out of pocket. The financial costs—together with the physical and emotional injuries caused by the accident—can be devastating.

    The Human Cost of Hit-and-Run Accidents

    According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, during the ten-year period from 2006 through 2015, hit-and-run accidents in any given year accounted for between:

    • 614,200 and 737,100 crashes
    • 125,700 and 172,200 injuries, and
    • 1,274 and 1,819 deaths.

    What To Do If You've Been in a Hit-and-Run Collision

    First things first. Check to see if anyone's injured. If so, call 911 and get medical help. Hit-and-run is a crime in every state, so regardless of injuries you should call the police. Don't try to chase down the fleeing driver—that's a job for law enforcement.

    Once you've summoned medical help and the police, here are the things you should do after a hit-and-run accident.

    At the Scene of the Collision

    Focus on gathering as much information as you can about the hit-and-run vehicle and driver, including:

    • the make, model, and color of the car
    • any damage to the car
    • the license plate number, or even a partial number
    • a description of the driver, and
    • the direction the car was headed

    While you're at the scene, you should also:

    • check to see if there are any security or surveillance cameras in the area and, if so, ask about getting video of the collision
    • get contact information for all witnesses so you (or your lawyer) can follow up and get written or recorded statements
    • take photos of the accident scene, the damage to your vehicle, and any injuries you suffered
    • get the name and badge number of the responding police officer and ask how to get a copy of the police report, and
    • ask the police officer whom you should contact about the follow-up investigation to track down the fleeing driver.

    After You've Left the Scene

    Once you've left the scene, you should:

    • call your doctor and get any necessary medical care
    • notify your auto insurance company
    • contact witnesses and get statements (though it's generally best to have a lawyer who will deal with this kind of investigation)
    • get repair estimates for your car and, if you're financially able, have the repairs done, and
    • stay in touch with the police to check on the status of the hit-and-run investigation.

    How to Get Compensated for Your Hit-and-Run Accident

    Your recovery options are, unfortunately, limited if you never find out who caused your collision. Chances are you'll look to your own insurance policies if you have available coverage. Otherwise, you could end up being out of pocket for your losses.

    Here are your options:

    • bring a claim against the fleeing driver, if the police make an arrest or the driver is otherwise found
    • file a claim under your own auto or health insurance, if you're covered
    • file a claim with your state's crime victim compensation board, if you're eligible, and
    • pay out of your own pocket.

    Claim Against Hit-and-Run Driver

    The police will do what they can to track down the hit-and-run driver. And because today almost everyone carries a camera in their pocket, there's a fair chance that the bad actor will be brought to justice. But don't get your hopes up. Lots of hit-and-run accidents go unsolved.

    If the police do catch the driver, then you can file an insurance claim—if the driver was insured—or a lawsuit to seek compensation for your injuries. Here again, don't get your hopes up. What are the odds that your hit-and-run driver carried auto liability coverage as required by law? Perhaps not great, but it's worth looking into if the driver is caught.

    Should you file a lawsuit against the hit-and-run driver? Before you rush to the courthouse, think it through carefully. (This is one of many good issues to discuss with a lawyer.) Odds are that the driver is what lawyers call "judgment proof," meaning that they have no insurance and no money or other assets you can seize to collect any judgment you might get. If that's the case, you could be throwing "good money after bad" and digging yourself into a deeper financial hole.

    If you do decide to pursue a claim against the hit-and-run driver, remember that the usual rules for deciding legal responsibility will apply. In other words, you'll still have to show that the other driver was negligent. The fact that they fled the scene doesn't mean you automatically win your car accident claim.

    Claim Against Your Own Auto or Health Insurance

    Your best chance at recovery might be your own insurance coverage, if you have it. The possibilities include your:

    • uninsured motorist coverage
    • personal injury protection coverage
    • medical payments coverage
    • collision coverage, and
    • health insurance

    Uninsured Motorist Coverage

    If you're in an accident with a hit-and-run driver, uninsured motorist coverage (UM) might be one way to get compensation for your personal injuries and auto repair costs. Most often, a hit-and-run driver who can't be found is treated as an uninsured motorist.

    Here's the problem: You might not have UM coverage. It's only required in a few states. In many states, an insurer must offer a minimal amount of UM coverage to policy buyers—who must decline it in writing if they don't want it—but it's still optional.

    If you do have UM coverage, making a claim might increase your insurance premium, even if you weren't at fault. Contact your insurance agent before you file a claim.

    If you have UM coverage, UM bodily injury protection (UMBI) covers your personal injuries and typically doesn't have any deductible. UM property damage insurance (UMPD) takes care of your property damages, but you'll likely have a deductible to pay.

    Some states don't allow UMPD coverage to be used in a hit-and-run accident. In those states, you'll need to look to your collision coverage (if you have it—see below) to take care of your car repair or replacement costs. Check with your insurance agent about what UM insurance covers in your state.

    You can buy UM coverage up to the limits of your liability insurance. Let's assume your policy has liability limits of $100,000/$300,000 ($100,000 per person/$300,000 aggregate for all persons injured in one accident). You can purchase $100,000/$300,000 of UM coverage for an additional premium.

    PIP Coverage

    Personal injury protection coverage (PIP) is a type of no-fault insurance. It pays the medical expenses and lost wages for the insured driver (and all other covered persons) after a car accident, regardless of who caused the crash.

    In states that have a no-fault car insurance system, PIP is part of the state-required auto insurance. Many other states allow PIP to be sold as an optional protection. If it's available, PIP is an inexpensive form of medical and wage-replacement coverage.

    There are a few drawbacks to PIP coverage. First, it won't cover your vehicle damage. Second, while PIP will cover your medical bills (up to your coverage limit), it likely won't pay for pain and suffering or emotional distress damages. Third, PIP coverage limits are low. Fourth, if you make a PIP claim and you were at fault for the accident, you should expect to see a premium hike.

    Medical Payments Coverage

    Medical payments coverage (MedPay), like PIP, is another kind of no-fault insurance. It will pay the medical expenses of any covered person after a wreck, no matter who was to blame for the collision. MedPay isn't required in most states, but you can buy it as an add-on to other insurance coverages.

    MedPay covers such things as doctor and hospital visits, ambulance or EMS charges, and even funeral expenses. You can use it to pay for health insurance deductibles and copays. Like PIP coverage, MedPay won't pay for your pain and suffering or emotional distress damages. Coverage limits are pretty low, but MedPay is a cheap form of medical insurance.

    Contact your insurance agent to see if filing a claim will cause your insurance premium to increase.

    Collision Coverage

    Collision coverage pays the cost to repair or replace your car after an accident, even if you were at fault. If you finance the purchase or lease of a car, the lender will require this coverage. Otherwise, it's typically optional.

    You might consider bringing a claim under your collision coverage if you have it, but there can be a couple of disadvantages. First, you'll have to pay the deductible (typically ranging from $500 to $2,000) out-of-pocket. Second, filing a claim might cause your insurance premium to go up. Compare the cost of your repairs to the possible premium increase to see if making a claim is worth it.

    Health Insurance

    If you have a health insurance policy, you can use it to pay for hit-and-run medical expenses that aren't otherwise insured. You'll be out-of-pocket for your health insurance deductible, but you can cover that with PIP or MedPay if you have one of those coverages.

    In most cases, your health insurance will be "secondary" coverage, meaning it will pay only if you don't have other insurance to cover your expenses. In addition, your health insurer will be "subrogated" to any recovery you might make from the hit-and-run driver. This means that if you receive any compensation from that driver or their insurance, you'll have to reimburse your health insurer to the extent of any expenses it paid.

    Claim Against Your State Crime Victim Compensation Board

    Every state has a crime victim compensation board. The board administers a fund that's available to help victims of violent crime pay crime-related expenses not covered by insurance or other government benefits. Victims of drunk drivers and the families of homicide victims are among those who can apply for assistance.

    Specific requirements and application procedures vary from state to state. Check your state's page to see if you're eligible for help.

    Paying Out of Pocket

    If you can't recover from the hit-and-run driver, don't have available insurance, and aren't able to recover from a crime victim compensation fund, you're probably out of luck. But before you give up, consider these alternatives:

    • check with other crime-victim or similar resources that might be available to help, and
    • see if your state or local bar associations (groups of lawyers in your state or county) are aware of any financial or other assistance programs.

    Get a Lawyer to Help Recover Your Losses

    If you've been the victim of a hit-and-run driver, you're likely to feel angry, frustrated, and hopeless. Those are understandable reactions to your situation. The prospect of suing the other driver or chasing down possible insurance coverage might seem overwhelming, particularly if you're injured.

    An experienced car accident lawyer might be able to help. This is someone who's dealt with hit-and-run claims like yours and who knows how to track down possible sources of recovery. Look for a lawyer who will accept your case on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer won't charge you by the hour but will take a percentage (usually between 25% and 40%) of any settlement or judgment you receive.

    Finally, if you want help finding crime-victim or similar resources, look into getting free or low-cost legal help.

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