What if your insurance isn’t enough to cover a hit-and-run accident?
A hit and run — by definition — involves a driver who’s going to be uncooperative (or not around) when it comes time to pay for your damages after an accident. That’s why you should know about how New Hampshire insurance works and laws around hit-and-run accidents.
You might think of a hit-and-run accident as what you see on TV… a dramatic car chase, a brakes-squealing crash, and then the culprit tails it out into the distance amid a cloud of exhaust and with the police in hot pursuit.
In reality, those types of accidents are few and far between.
The more likely scenario for a hit-and-run accident is that someone accidentally scraped your car in a parking lot and left without writing a note. Or, perhaps you were “thumped” on your bumper while stopped at a crosswalk or stop sign, and the other driver drove away without exchanging information.
Although these sound like minor accidents, the consequences can be severe. Each state has its own set of rules and penalties for a hit-and-run accident.
A hit-and-run could apply to any collision, whether it happens:
- While on the road in traffic
- With a parked car in a parking lot or on the street
- Involving a pedestrian, bicyclist, or other road user; or
- With a stationary object (wall, building, mailbox, pet, tree, etc.).
A New Hampshire hit-and-run presents legal obstacles for both the driver and the victim. For the driver, there are serious penalties—far more than if you have an accident and take responsibility. For the victim, it can be difficult to receive compensation for your losses if the hit-and-run driver can’t be identified.
Here’s what you should know as a New Hampshire driver.
New Hampshire hit-and-run laws
New Hampshire law requires that any driver who is aware (or should be aware) that they have been involved in any collision that resulted in death, personal injury or property damage must immediately stop their vehicle at the scene of the accident.
If you fail to stop at the scene of any accident where there is injury or death, you can be charged with a class B felony in addition to any civil personal injury litigation brought by the victim.
If you fail to stop at the scene of an unattended vehicle and there is no death or injury, you can be charged with a misdemeanor.
When you stop at the scene of the accident, you must do the following:
- Provide your name, address and vehicle registration number to any other involved parties.
- Exchange insurance policy information with other involved parties.
- If the other involved parties are unable to receive the information, you must instead provide it to a uniformed police officer at the scene.
- If there is not a police officer available, you must report the collision to the nearest police station.
- You are required to call the police if the accident resulted in injury, death or property damage that exceeds $1,000.
If the vehicle is unattended and you don’t know who the owner is or where to find them, you must attach a note to the vehicle that includes your name, address and vehicle registration number.
Penalties for a New Hampshire hit-and-run accident
Penalties for a New Hampshire hit-and-run accident are as follows:
Property damage or an unattended vehicle: Class A misdemeanor, up to one year in jail and maximum fine of $2,000. Depending on circumstances, it could be a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,200 and no jail time.
Death or property damage: Class B felony, up to seven years in prison and maximum fine of $2,000.
DUI hit-and-run or negligent homicide: Class B felony, up to seven years in prison and maximum fine of $2,000.
Filing a false police report: Class B felony.
All convictions: suspension or revocation of driver’s license.
Who pays for damages for a hit-and-run accident?
New Hampshire is an at-fault state. That means the person who causes the accident is responsible for paying the damages of the victim.
This seems straightforward, but it’s not always so in a hit-and-run accident. One reason why some people leave the scene of an accident is because they might be uninsured or underinsured and they’re afraid of what the accident could cost them.
However, your uninsured motorist portion of your insurance policy will cover damages by a hit-and-run and treat the accident the same as if it were with an uninsured motorist. If your damages are extensive and you need to file a lawsuit for amounts above your insurance coverage, you should contact a personal injury lawyer. They can work with the police department to try to identify and track down the hit-and-run driver so you can make a claim.
How do police departments identify a hit-and-run driver?
If you’re the victim, it’s crucial to call the police right away. There could be evidence at the scene, including witness testimony, that could be the difference between recovering damages and not.
If there are witnesses or if there is surveillance video, camera information, or dashcam footage, the police can try to identify the vehicle’s make and color, a description of the driver, the vehicle’s license plates, or other evidence from witnesses that will help to lead them to the driver.
Are there defenses to a hit-and-run?
There are only a few rarely applied defenses to hit-and-run charges:
- Lack of awareness. As we mentioned above, some people could be unaware that the collision happened.
- Responding to an emergency. If you were involved in an emergency like driving a friend to the emergency room or transporting a pregnant person in labor to the hospital, then you might be able to use that as a defense. This might or might not be accepted, depending on the situation.
- Involuntary intoxication. This applies only if you were drugged and your capacity to drive was diminished by no fault of your own.
What can you do if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run?
That depends on the type of accident.
The driver failed to stop in a car crash on the road
If a driver tries to flee, don’t try to apprehend them yourself. Leave it to the police. You don’t want to be involved in a more serious situation such as a dangerous car chase, and you don’t know if they are drunk or dangerous in some other way. Your safety is more important than “catching” the driver.
Whether you’re a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist, call the police and provide as much information as possible, including:
- The vehicle’s license plate number
- A physical description of the car (color, make, model, identifying characteristics)
- A physical description of the individual if you can get a look (male or female, approximate height/build, hair color, glasses, hat, etc.)
- Damage to the other car
If there are witnesses, get their contact information.
The driver hit your parked car
Parking lots can be dangerous, in part because drivers tend to let their guards down — they often aren’t as careful in a parking lot as they are on the road.
But a moving car is always risky, and parking lots are no exception to the rule.
If you’re approaching your car and find that there’s a dent or scratch that wasn’t there before, what can you do?
A responsible and law-abiding driver will leave a note with their name, phone number, registration and insurance information. But as you know, not every driver is responsible and law-abiding.
If your car was damaged and you don’t know by whom, you should still file a police report. If the police can find the driver, you’ll have more options for recovering damages.
The driver provided false information
Even if a driver does provide their name and contact information, it’s still considered a hit-and-run if the information is false.
People joke about being “fake numbered”... like when a prospective date gives someone a false phone number so the other person is never able to contact them. In that situation, the only “injury” that happens is a bruised ego or hurt feelings.
But when this happens after an accident, the consequences are much more serious. Imagine that you were in an accident and dutifully wrote down the name and contact information of the at-fault driver. But when you go to make an insurance claim against the driver, no such driver or policy exists. At that point, there might not be any way to get accurate information or find the person responsible.
The possibility of receiving false information is why it’s important to take photos of the car and the license plate. Even if the driver provides a false name and number, they can usually still be found if you have their license plate number.
Ask to take photos of the other person’s license, registration and insurance card. There’s less opportunity for error in writing down numbers and information if you have a photo for reference.
Contact a car accident lawyer
A car accident lawyer will be crucial in a hit-and-run investigation, regardless of whether you’re the driver or a victim. As a victim, your attorney will work closely with experts and police in order to try to identify the at-fault driver because that’s the only way you could file a lawsuit if that becomes necessary.
If you left the scene of an accident for some reason, a lawyer might be able to help you mitigate some damages and penalties.