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What if your insurance isn’t enough to cover a hit and run accident?
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.
What is a hit and run?
|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 defendant operated a motor vehicle.
- The defendant’s vehicle collided with a person, another vehicle, or property and caused damage.
- The defendant was aware that the collision and damage happened.
- The defendant failed to stop at the scene to provide their information OR the defendant stopped and then left the scene without providing their information.
- The defendant knowingly provided false information.
The required information is the defendant’s name, residence address, and vehicle registration number.
Hit and run penalties in Massachusetts
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:
- Up to 2 years in jail
- Fine up to $200
- License suspension of 6 months or longer
If your conviction is for leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in bodily injury, you can be sentenced to:
- Minimum of 6 months in jail (up to 2 years)
- Fine up to $1,000
- License suspension for 1 year or longer
You also will be likely to be liable for paying for the plaintiff’s medical bills and other expenses.
Why do people hit and run?
There could be a variety of reasons, but the most common are that the driver:
- Doesn’t have auto insurance.
- Has illegal weapons, drugs, or other contraband in their possession.
- Is driving a stolen vehicle.
- Is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Is named in a pending arrest warrant.
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.
Is there a defense to a hit and run charge?
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).
Who pays for damages in a hit and run accident?
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.
Uninsured motorist coverage is required in Massachusetts. Your uninsured motorist coverage is designed to cover your costs after a hit and run accident.
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.
What if you don’t know who hit you?
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.
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.).
Post-Accident Journal Form
Sample accident journal/diary to help you document the effect on your daily life
Download in PDF format
- 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 witnesses, gather their contact information. Write down their names, phone numbers, email address, 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).
Especially if your car was hit in a parking area, there could be security footage that helps lead police to a defendant.
- Notify your insurance company. Don’t wait to make your insurance claim. Some insurance policies have strict time limits for when 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 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 may be the only way to get full compensation for all of your injuries.
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 for an identification. Law enforcement can quickly and accurately track a vehicle by its license plate.
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.
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 Massachusetts personal injury lawyer who can take a closer look at your hit-and-run claim.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.