First, the irresponsible driver inflicts property damage and possibly injuries, or even death. Those harms get compounded by leaving the victim to fend for themselves to pay for vehicle repairs, medical expenses or even funeral costs. Not to mention other financial ramifications from a serious car accident, including lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of a loved one’s support and companionship.
Few measures seem to work for discouraging at-fault drivers from fleeing the scene of an accident. After tracking the problem over a three-year period, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that fatalities from hit-and-run accidents increased by over thirteen percent between 2009 and 2011. For that same period, deaths from all traffic accidents in the United States declined by over four percent. Such accidents involve drunk drivers, who panic and try to run from the catastrophe they have created.
As an example of how bad the problem of drivers trying to escape liability for hitting and hurting others can become, roughly half of the wrecks reported to police in Los Angeles during 2011 involved at least one driver who fled the scene before law enforcement officers and emergency responders arrived.
The personal injury attorneys at Shapiro, Appleton & Duffan regularly represent injured people and grieving families who wonder if they will be able to cope with the financial aftermath of a hit-and-run accident, many of which involve drunk or impaired drivers. While each case has its own facts, the five tips below provide some general guidance on what to do after a serious hit and run incident.
File a Police Report
Most states have laws that require anyone involved in a crash on a public road to report the incident to police. Filing a police report is especially important following a hit-and-run accident because law enforcement officials will likely initiate an investigation trying to find the at-fault driver. Alerting police also leads to the creation of a detailed report that victims can use to support and corroborate insurance claims, especially if your insurance company is skeptical and demands more proof.
Contact Your Own Auto Insurance Company
Especially when medical treatment is needed or a death occurs, hit-and-run victims should notify their automobile insurance carrier as soon as possible. Health insurance coverage generally begins immediately, depending on the type of coverage you have and the size of your deductible or coinsurance. A form of optional car insurance coverage, medical expense benefits (Med Pay) could also be accessible if you have this optional form of coverage, which may be in addition to a personal injury claim against the hit and run driver.
Check for Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured and/or underinsured motorist coverage (typically referred to as UM/UIM coverage) is a unique form of auto insurance coverage that nearly all states require in one form or another. Determining whether you have UM/UIM coverage and how much you can access is where hiring a personal injury attorney makes a lot of sense. You should focus on getting back to one-hundred percent, not deciphering complicated legal terminology embedded in insurance policies. Allow your lawyer to sort through the details, but this is the basic definition:
UM-Uninsured motorist coverage definition: if the at fault (hit and run) driver has no insurance, your own car insurance policy uninsured motorist (UM) coverage will apply to cover your claim up to the coverage limit.
UIM-Underinsured motorist coverage definition: if the at fault (hit and run) driver has some, but not enough car liability insurance, your own car insurance policy underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage may apply to cover your claim up to the UIM coverage limit. Note: each state has different rules about UIM coverage, whether various policies can be “stacked” and how the total coverages of multiple policies are combined.
The accessibility of UM/UIM coverage is highly dependent on the state you reside in. For example, in Virginia, car insurance companies are required to provide UM/UIM coverage to the same extent as your liability coverage, unless the insured person rejects and wants lower limits as low as the minimum state requirements. This means that if you have $100,000 in liability coverage through GEICO, State Farm, Nationwide, or another provider, then you automatically have $100,000 in UM/UIM coverage, unless you reject the equal limits. Speaking of liability coverage, we strongly recommend you have auto insurance above the mandatory minimum (in Virginia, the minimum is $25,000 in liability coverage as of 2015). Our firm recommends liability coverage of at least $200,000, and equal UM/UIM limits.
Not all states are like Virginia. If you reside in a state like Florida, you do not enjoy the same level of protection against an uninsured motorist. Florida, along with nine other states, offer a different type of supplemental coverage called Personal Injury Protection with a mandatory minimum of $10,000. Any UM/UIM coverage is completely optional in Florida, and other states, meaning you have to ask for it and pay extra for that coverage.
Was There Physical Contact?
If you have UM/UIM coverage, an important related issue that must be addressed is whether there was physical contact between you, or your vehicle, and the vehicle that fled the scene. Some states only provide UIM coverage for a hit and run incident when there was actual physical contact between you, your vehicle and the unidentified vehicle. Again, this distinction is dependent on the state you reside in and then the specific language of your auto insurance policy. Hiring a lawyer to handle all of these details is a great plan.
Keep All Bills and Record
Your insurance company will want to see the police report and may request documentation of all crash-related expenses. Such expenses can include hospital bills, payments for prescription medications and physical therapy sessions, car repair bills, car rental fees, travel costs for family members attending a funeral, pay lost while being unable to work, and ongoing care for disabilities. This information will also prove essential if the hit-and-run driver is located and it becomes possible to seek compensation from that person.
Count on a Caring Personal Injury Attorney
Employing a dedicated car accident injury attorney to guide you through the process of dealing with an insurance company following a hit and run accident makes sense.
First, UM/UIM claims get investigated and adjudicated the same way that claims against an at-fault driver’s insurance do. Insurers look for ways to make lowball settlements and outright deny claims. Working with a lawyer who will not back down in the face of pressure or succumb to insurer’s usual tactics provides significant protections for one’s rights to seek and receive adequate compensation.
Second, if the driver who caused a hit-and-run accident is tracked down, possibly through the work of the law firm’s investigative staff, a skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorney will know how to best hold that person financially accountable.
Whether doing that involves going to court with a civil lawsuit, or negotiating a settlement, the chances for achieving the result is the best outcome possible when a knowledgeable lawyer is in your corner.
Richard N. Shapiro is a partner at Shapiro, Appleton & Duffan in Virginia Beach, Va. He is certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a personal injury lawyer, and has litigated wrongful death, trucking, faulty products, railroad and medical negligence claims throughout the Eastern United States.
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Company Name: Shapiro, Appleton and Duffan
Contact Person: Richard
Address:1294 Diamond Springs Rd
City: Virginia Beach
Country: United States