Yes, you can still recover damages after a hit and run — sometimes
A hit and run is an accident where the at-fault driver leaves the scene without providing aid to an injured person, calling for help, or providing identification and contact information.
There are 2 ways to look at a hit and run accident:
- From the view of the person who caused the accident and left the scene, and
- From the view of someone who was injured and needs to recover financial damages for their costs.
The District of Columbia is a no-fault insurance jurisdiction, which means if you suffer damages from a car accident, you’d make a claim on your own insurance policy.
If your policy covers all of your costs, then this system works great.
But if your damages add up to a higher amount than your policy limits, then you could be looking at paying out-of-pocket for additional expenses.
How to avoid a hit and run
Let’s say you caused an accident — these things happen. We all make mistakes. But your biggest mistake would be leaving the scene and avoiding responsibility.
Here are the steps you should take following a crash:
If the accident results in personal injury...
- Immediately stop and make sure emergency assistance is called if necessary.
- Remain on the scene until police arrive.
- Provide identifying information to law enforcement and help any injured persons.
If the accident results in property damage or injury to a domestic animal...
- Immediately stop.
- Provide your identifying information to the property owner (or owner of the animal).
- If you can’t locate the owner, you must provide your identifying information to a 911 operator or make a police report from the scene.
Hit and run penalties in the District of Columbia
Leaving the scene of an accident that you’re involved in is a crime in Washington, D.C. The punishments for committing a hit and run vary depending on how many times you’ve been convicted of this offense in the past.
First hit and run offense
- Up to a $1,000 fine
- Up to 180 days of jail time
The maximum penalty for a property damage-only offense is $250 fine and 30 days in jail.
Second hit and run offense
- Up to a $2,500 fine
- Up to 1 year of jail time
Stock your glove box with a piece of paper, waterproof marker, and a clear Ziploc bag. If you need to leave a note, put it in the bag and place it under the other car’s windshield wiper. The bag protects it from rain or snow so there’s no issue when the other driver returns to their vehicle.
Why do hit and run crashes happen?
Sometimes, a person leaves the scene without really considering the consequences.
There are some common reasons why drivers might flee a crash scene:
- The driver could be a teen or young adult who is afraid to get into trouble, particularly as a new driver. They might think their parents won’t find out if they leave the scene (newsflash: the parents always find out).
- The driver might have an outstanding arrest warrant or be avoiding law enforcement for some other reason.
- The driver could have been drinking alcohol or under the influence of drugs and doesn’t want to interact with law enforcement while drunk.
- The driver doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have a license.
- Panic. In the moments after a crash, some people simply don’t think clearly. They just might not make a rational decision. They think they won’t get caught, or there wasn’t really much damage — and they leave without realizing the consequences for leaving will be worse than the consequences if they stay.
How a D.C. hit and run victim can recover damages
There are 3 ways you could be a victim of a hit and run accident:
- Your vehicle is hit while in traffic (at a traffic light or otherwise) and the other driver flees without stopping.
- Your vehicle was hit and damaged while parked.
- You were hit as a pedestrian or bicyclist and the driver didn’t stop.
If the police are able to identify the at-fault driver after a hit and run, you can make a claim against their insurance policy or file a personal injury lawsuit. You can also make a claim on your own auto insurance policy.
If you’re unable to locate or identify the hit and run driver, you can make a claim to your own uninsured driver policy on your insurance.
If you own a vehicle, District insurance laws require you to have the following:
|Uninsured motorist bodily injury||$25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident|
|Uninsured motorist property damage||$5,000 per accident with $200 deductible|
You might also have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, which is optional. PIP covers:
- Medical expenses, rehabilitation services, adaptive equipment, etc. (up to $50,000 per claimant)
- Percentage of lost wages for time off from work because of the injury (up to $12,000 for up to 3 years after the accident)
- Funeral expenses (up to $4,000)
If you are not a vehicle owner and you’re hit as a pedestrian or bicyclist (and you don’t have auto insurance), your only recourse if you can identify the at-fault driver is to make a claim against their insurance policy or to file a lawsuit.
What if you can’t identify the driver?
Unfortunately, you can’t make a claim or file a lawsuit if you don’t know who to hold responsible. If that happens, you’d be limited to what’s covered by your own insurance. Any damages above the limits of your insurance would have to be paid out of pocket.
That’s why it’s important to contact the police and a lawyer as soon as possible if you’re the victim of a hit and run. They have tools and techniques to identify and locate a driver, and that’s your best chance to receive financial compensation.
But it needs to happen quickly.
If the accident happens in a place where there are surveillance cameras (as is increasingly common), it could have been caught on video, and that would greatly increase the likelihood of identifying the driver.
However, most businesses routinely delete surveillance footage after a period of time if they don’t think there’s a reason to save it. So, contacting any relevant business, homeowner, or government agency that might have recorded images as soon as possible could make or break the outcome of your claim.
If you’re able to do so, locate witnesses at the scene and ask for their contact information. Even if they didn’t see the accident happen, they could have information that might be valuable in identifying and finding the hit and run driver.
Even if the witnesses can’t identify the driver, having their account on record can be important for you to receive your own insurance coverage because you will still have to show how the accident happened, even if you didn’t actually see it.
What to do if you’re the victim of a hit and run accident
Regardless of whether you discovered damage to your parked car or you were hit while in traffic, here are some tips for how to handle a hit and run:
- Don’t attempt to chase or apprehend the driver. You might think the only way to identify the driver is to stop them, but that’s not always true. Law enforcement has a variety of techniques they use to identify and “catch” a suspect, so let them do their job! It’s never safe to engage in a car chase, and you absolutely don’t want to try to apprehend someone who might be intoxicated, armed, or otherwise dangerous.
- Call the police. Even if you’re not injured and the damage is minimal, it will benefit you to have a police report on file. They’ll assess the situation when they arrive.
- Make detailed notes. Write down as much as you can recall about how the accident happened. If you can remember any identifying details about the car or driver, those are important, too. For example, make note of the car’s license plate number, make, model, and color, if possible. If you were able to get a look at the driver, note any physical characteristics (tall, short, dark hair, glasses, etc.).
- Take car accident photos. Photos are an easy and fast way to have a detailed record of the damage and the circumstances around the accident. Be sure to capture any damage to your car or other property, street signs or signals in the area, any other conditions that might provide information (weather, road conditions, etc.). Don’t be afraid to go overboard with the photography — you can always delete them later. Taking pictures of the scene from every angle can help your case if you need to file one later on.
- Gather witness information. If there are eyewitnesses, gather their contact information. Write down their names, phone numbers, email addresses, and other pertinent data for anyone who might have seen what happened. Even if they think they didn’t see anything important, sometimes small details that don’t seem relevant to other people are actually quite important to police and lawyers.
- Notify your insurance company. Don’t wait to make your insurance claim. Some insurance policies have strict time limits for how long you have to file a claim or notify them of an accident.
Even if the driver is uncooperative, if you’re able to quickly photograph or write down the license plate number, that can be tremendously helpful for identification. Law enforcement can quickly and accurately track a vehicle by its license plate.
- Contact a car accident lawyer. If you were unable to identify or locate the driver, an experienced attorney can launch their own investigation into who the at-fault driver is and how to find them. If the hit-and-run driver is not identified, your lawyer can work with your insurance company to help you receive the highest possible settlement.
Need help finding an attorney near you?
The Enjuris law firm directory can help you find a Washington, D.C. car accident lawyer who understands the nuances of the law and insurance policies, and who has the resources needed to identify and locate a hit and run driver. A hit-and-run accident is not your fault, so you shouldn’t be on the hook for accident damages and costs if there’s another option.