Recovering damages after a hit and run can be more difficult than a car accident where all the parties are identified
A hit and run is a crash or collision where a driver flees the scene or fails to provide the correct identifying information in order to be held responsible for the crash.
In Maryland, there are steep penalties for drivers who leave the scene of the crash, but it’s also a problem for the victims.
How to recover damages after a Maryland car accident
Maryland follows an at-fault system for damages. If you’re in an accident, the at-fault driver is financially responsible for the damages — or costs — related to the crash.
Damages can include:
- Medical treatment, including hospital and doctor visits, surgeries, prescription medications, diagnostics, etc.
- Ongoing rehabilitative therapies
- Prosthetics or assistive devices
- Lost wages during your recovery or future earning capacity
- Property loss
- Pain and suffering or mental distress
In general, there are 2 ways to recover damages from an accident: insurance or personal injury lawsuit.
File an insurance claim
In Maryland, if you’re the injured person, you would generally make a claim on the at-fault driver’s insurance policy.
Insurance covers some damages, but not all. For instance, pain and suffering or future lost earning capacity wouldn’t be included as part of an insurance settlement. If your injuries are severe and cost more than the policy limits, you might not be able to recover all of your costs from an insurance policy.
If you can’t receive the full amount of damages from the at-fault driver’s insurance, then you could turn to your own underinsured motorist policy. Every Maryland auto insurance policy is required to have uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage.
If the other driver’s insurance doesn’t cover the full extent of your damages, your underinsured motorist policy should cover outstanding costs.
Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is designed as an “overflow” policy that you can use if the at-fault driver has insurance but not enough for your damages.
Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is used when the at-fault driver either doesn’t have insurance, or if the accident is a hit and run and the driver can’t be identified.
A Maryland driver is required to have a minimum of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident in uninsured bodily injury coverage, and $15,000 in uninsured motorist property damage coverage.
But what if it’s still not enough?
File a personal injury lawsuit
In a serious accident, medical bills can pile up quickly. Treatment is expensive, and even a short hospital stay or a seemingly minor surgery could be very costly.
If the full insurance coverage — both the at-fault driver’s and your own — doesn’t cover the extent of your damages, the next step is to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Maryland hit and run laws
A hit and run — when the driver flees the scene — only applies in Maryland if there’s bodily injury or property damage.
However, as a driver, it’s not a good idea to assume that because there’s no immediately visible damage, you can just leave.
The penalties for a hit and run are strict and it’s better to err on the side of caution by leaving your information and hoping it never needs to be used, rather than leave the scene and find out later that there was damage or injury that you didn’t realize at the time.
If you’re involved in an accident in which there is property damage, injury, or death, you must do the following:
- Render reasonable assistance to any injured person.
- Call 911 or other assistance for medical care for anyone who needs it.
- Provide your name, address, and vehicle registration number to any injured person or owner of property that has been damaged (also show your driver’s license if they request it).
- Provide the above information and your driver’s license to a police officer at the scene.
- If the person isn’t able to receive your information, you must immediately report the accident to the police.
You may move your car if it’s drivable after an accident. You should immediately pull off the road and into a safe location, but stay as close as possible to the scene.
Penalties for a Maryland hit and run
- If the accident results in property damage only, the penalty for a hit and run is a maximum fine of $500 and 60 days in jail.
- If there’s bodily injury, the penalty for a hit and run could be up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
- If the accident resulted in a fatality, the hit and run penalty could be up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In addition, a hit and run usually results in 8-12 points on your driver’s license.
How does a victim prove a hit and run?
It’s important to note that a hit and run could be handled in both criminal and civil court. As a victim, your best recourse against a hit and run driver is to file a claim with their insurance or file a personal injury lawsuit.
If you file a lawsuit, the fact that the driver was charged with a hit-and-run crime related to the accident will certainly be important evidence to support your claim. However, you’ll still need to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant caused your injuries.
In other words, the judge or jury needs to find that there is more than a 50% chance that the defendant was liable.
Are there defenses to a hit and run?
There are ways that a driver might claim that they don’t deserve a hit-and-run charge. Often, these same defenses can help them to avoid financial responsibility for an accident, too.
- Unaware that the accident happened. It seems unlikely, but most of us have experienced an unexpected bump or thump while driving and attributed it to a pothole or road debris. It’s possible that a driver could have a minor collision and not realize that they’d hit another car or person, which is a defense the other part might try to use.
- There was no damage to another person’s car and no injury. If there was a collision and the other person isn’t hurt, and if the driver believed there was no damage — or only damage to their own car — then they might make the argument that they didn’t hit and run.
- Mistaken identity. Sometimes, a driver will maintain that they simply weren’t driving the car. And, that can be true. Eyewitnesses can be incorrect or have flawed memories about what they thought they saw.
Hitting a parked car
A hit and run accident involving a parked car is treated the same as any other hit and run.
If you discover that your parked car has been damaged, then what?
Hopefully, the person who hit your car will have left a note with the required information as required by law.
If not, you will need to file a claim under your own uninsured motorist policy in order to receive compensation for property damage. There will be a state-mandated $250 deductible. Your insurance company might also require you to have a police report for any hit and run, so be sure to call the police immediately when you discover that your car has been damaged.
It’s a good idea to keep a waterproof pen or marker, a piece of paper, and a plastic bag in your car. If it’s raining, leaving the note inside a clear plastic bag on another car’s windshield will protect it from becoming wet or destroyed.
What if the hit and run driver is never identified?
If the responsible driver is never identified or located, you can file a claim on your uninsured motorist policy, as long as there is a police report verifying the circumstances of the accident.
But unfortunately, if the driver isn’t identified, then you can’t file a personal injury lawsuit because you wouldn’t know who to sue.
However, the police have ways to identify hit and run drivers. When you call the police, they will review the evidence, look for witnesses, trace license plates, and use other methods to try to find the driver. It could take some time, but law enforcement might be able to be a significant help to you in seeking compensation for a hit and run.
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. It’s never safe to engage in a car chase, and you absolutely shouldn’t try to apprehend someone who might be intoxicated, armed, or otherwise dangerous.
- Call the police. Even if you’re uninjured and the damage is minimal, you might not be able to file an insurance claim without a police report.
- 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 pieces of evidence that you should write down before you forget. For example, make note of the car’s license plate number and state, as well as the vehicle 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.).
Even if the driver is uncooperative, if you’re able to quickly photograph or write down the license plate number, that will be tremendously helpful to identify the individual. Law enforcement can quickly and accurately track a vehicle by its license plate.
- Take photos. Pictures and videos 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 what you don’t need 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 witnesses, gather their contact information. Write down their names, phone numbers, email addresses, and other pertinent data for anyone who might have observed 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.If you’re near residences or businesses, ask if anyone saw the accident from the window. You also might ask if there’s any surveillance video that could have captured the incident. Many businesses (and, increasingly, homes) have surveillance cameras. It’s important to check immediately though because many businesses don’t retain surveillance footage for very long (unless there’s a specific reason to do so).
- Notify your insurance company. Don’t wait to make your insurance claim. Some insurance policies have strict time limits for how soon you need to file a claim or notify them of an accident.
- Contact a car accident lawyer. If you were unable to identify or locate the driver, an experienced attorney can help support law enforcement investigations or, if needed, launch their own investigation into who the at-fault driver is and how to find them — that way you can recover compensation. In hit-and-run cases resulting in severe injuries, this might be the only way to get full compensation for all of your injuries.
A hit and run, by nature, involves an uncooperative driver. There are lots of reasons why someone might leave the scene of an accident. Perhaps they don’t have insurance, they don’t have a license, it’s a teen who’s worried about their parent’s reaction, someone who has previous traffic violations or outstanding arrest warrants, or just someone who panicked in the moment and made a poor judgment.
But you shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s mistake.
An experienced lawyer has access to investigators, medical experts, financial professionals, and others who can help you receive damages. Let the Enjuris lawyer directory be your source to find a Maryland personal injury lawyer who can take a closer look at your hit-and-run claim.