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What to do when a driver leaves the scene of a car accident
You’re driving along, minding your own business, when – WHAM – a car smacks yours. You briefly see the whites of the other driver’s eyes in a moment that hangs suspended in eternity, and then time speeds up. He rushes away before you can get his license plate. You’re stunned. Your car is ruined. It all took less than one minute.
What just happened?
It’s colloquially called a “hit and run.” This is when a driver hits another car, a person or property and knowingly fails to provide his or her insurance information or render aid before driving away. (We could also call this several other things, but that kind of language isn’t allowed in this article.)
Some states also include animals in their definition of a hit and run.
If a person leaves the scene to find a phone or emergency medical services and then returns, he is generally given some leeway. However, leaving the scene of an accident is normally taken very seriously and can be labeled as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case. Punishment can be everything from a fine all the way up to incarceration.
Why would a driver leave the scene?
There are many reasons why a driver wouldn’t stick around to survey the damage.
- He doesn’t have a valid driver’s license.
- He’s driving with a suspended license or has too many tickets.
- There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
- He is intoxicated or on drugs.
- He doesn’t have car insurance.
- He might not have permission to drive the car (which is a nice way of saying it could be stolen).
- He could be driving a company car and doesn’t want to get in trouble with his employer.
Don’t try to chase after the driver, even if you think you can catch him. This isn’t Rush Hour or The Fast and the Furious. A Honda Civic isn’t made for these kinds of daring escapades.
So what am I supposed to do after a hit and run?
First of all, stay calm. Make sure that you and everyone in your car are all right before getting out. State laws require that all drivers, not just the perpetrators, stay at the scene and call the police; this way, you can preserve the official record for your insurance company. If necessary, provide basic first aid and wait for emergency medical services to arrive. Try to get your vehicle out of traffic and toward the side of the road if possible.
Normally, this is when you’d exchange insurance information with the other driver. Instead you’ll just be waiting for the cops and medical services to arrive. In the meantime, collect information and evidence if you can.
A post-accident report can be kept in your glove compartment for unfortunate accidents like these. It has all of the relevant information your insurance company will need for a claim. In this instance, filling it out will be rather one-sided. Take pictures of the accident scene, your car’s damage, the weather conditions and whatever else looks possibly relevant. Remember, it’s better to have too much than too little evidence.
Accident Report Form
Sample post-accident report form to keep in your glove box - fill out at the scene or as soon as you can after a car accident
Download in PDF format
See if there are any witnesses around and ask them what they saw. Most importantly, get their contact information! Witnesses often leave town or even the state, and they can be very difficult to reach again. Your insurance adjuster will thank you if you have this information.
For hit and run drivers, you have to be creative in trying to track them down. Think of every piece of identifying information you can:
- Do you remember any of the license plate number?
- Was their car a strange color?
- Did it have a particular rust pattern?
- Was it broken down or did it have a battered piece?
- Were there any identifying bumper stickers?
- Are there any nearby stores with video cameras or workers who would’ve noticed the car?
- If the car was speeding, ask the police if there are any red camera lights to check.
Finally, once all of that has been taken care of, contact your insurance company and file a claim. Even though you weren’t able to get the other driver’s insurance information, it’s very possible that your coverage includes a form of underinsurance. Many insurance companies offer underinsurance or uninsurance for this very scenario.
When a driver leaves the scene without offering his information, an injured driver will have to turn to his own insurance company to cover his medical bills. This happens more often than you think – what if you got hit by someone who was only carrying the minimum required insurance, for instance, and your medical bills exceeded that minimum? It’s good to have a backup, and the premiums aren’t that expensive.
Dealing with a hit and run driver is an enormous headache. Hiring an attorney can be a great way to get a lot of the work off your plate. Consider checking out the Enjuris law firm directory for help!
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.