A car accident can be anything from a minor tap to a serious collision. Even “minor” collisions with no injuries can result in serious property damage. A small scratch, dent, or ding on the bumper can lead to BIG repair bills.
Normally, you’d call your insurance and have the repair covered and you move on... right? Usually, yes. But although the insurance company pays your repair bill, it needs the information for the other driver because it’s going to claim payment from their insurance company.
So what happens if you don’t know who the other driver is?
That’s where things get tricky.
|Massachusetts Hit and Run Law
(General Law Part I, Title XIV, Chapter 90, Section 24)
If a driver is in an accident and knowingly causes injuries or property damage, and fails to stop or provide their name, address, and vehicle registration number to the other person, they have committed the crime of hit and run.
There’s an important distinction to be made when talking about hit and run accidents—namely that there are both criminal charges and civil penalties.
|If you’re the victim of a hit and run driver||If you’ve committed a hit and run|
If you were injured or suffered property loss or damage as a result of an accident caused by a hit and run driver, you can often turn first to your own insurance.
Massachusetts is a no-fault state, which means a driver makes a claim on their own insurance policy. If the extent of damages exceeds your policy limits or isn’t covered, you can then make a claim against the other driver’s insurance or file a lawsuit... but you can only do so if you can identify the driver (that is, if you know who hit you).
A private citizen can’t charge a person with a crime. Only law enforcement can do that. If you know who hit you, you can report it to the police and they would handle any criminal charges.
First of all, don’t.
But if you do, and you’re caught (which could be likely because of sophisticated and ubiquitous surveillance technology and investigative techniques), you will likely be held responsible in civil court for the victim’s financial impact of the accident.
You might also face criminal charges that might include financial penalties, jail time, and license suspension.
In other words, an accident is escalated to a higher level if it’s a hit and run. Here’s how Massachusetts law defines leaving the scene of an accident (or hit and run):
The required information is the defendant’s name, residence address, and vehicle registration number.
If you’re convicted of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in property damage but not bodily injury, you can be sentenced to:
If your conviction is for leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in bodily injury, you can be sentenced to:
You also will be likely to be liable for paying for the plaintiff’s medical bills and other expenses.
There could be a variety of reasons, but the most common are that the driver:
In other words, they don’t want to be caught.
Sometimes, a driver is just frightened, especially if it’s a young driver who doesn’t know how to handle an accident, is afraid their parents will find out, or is intimidated by police officers. They might lose their better judgment and make a split-second decision that’s not the right one.
Sometimes, a lawyer will defend a client charged with a hit and run by claiming that the defendant was unaware that they caused a collision. The likelihood of success depends on the facts of the case and the evidence. The other defense might be mistaken identity — the defendant might argue that they weren’t the driver who caused the collision as a way to be acquitted (found not guilty).
Massachusetts car insurance laws require a driver to turn to their own insurance first to recover damages in any car accident. Your claim to your own insurance policy can cover medical expenses, property damage, and other fees.
But there are exceptions.
First, if the injuries cost you more than $2,000 in reasonable medical expenses. Second, if the injuries are permanent and severe in a way that will affect your quality of life, such as broken bones, disfigurement, loss of a body part, or death of a family member.
However, if your expenses meet 1 of the exceptions above (if you required hospital treatment, for example, in which case the $2,000 limit can be exceeded pretty quickly) and your insurance doesn’t cover it, then you can then file a personal injury lawsuit against the hit and run driver.
Here’s another wrinkle:
Sometimes, the reason a person commits a hit and run is because they don’t have car insurance. But why don’t they have car insurance? It could be an accidental lapse or oversight. However, more likely it’s because they can’t afford the premium. If that’s the case, it could be difficult to recover payment, even if you’re awarded damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Your lawyer can tell you whether you’re likely to recover compensation from the defendant.
Whether the hit and run was to your parked car and you don’t know who hit you, or it was on the road but the driver left the scene too quickly for you to get their information, you might have trouble collecting damages.
The more information you have to potentially identify a defendant, the better. But if identification is not possible, you’ll be covered to the limit of your own insurance policy and will need to pay any additional expenses on your own.
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:
A hit and run accident might be more difficult to handle than a “regular” car accident — if all parties are cooperative and the insurance companies can work things out, it often leads to quick resolution.
But a hit and run, by nature, involves an uncooperative driver. That, alone, makes resolving an accident claim more complicated. They might claim mistaken identity, that their actions didn’t cause your damage or injury, or some other reason why they’re not responsible for your damages... leaving you high and dry with bills to pay.