A guide to hit and run crashes in the Garden State
Every hit-and-run accident story has 2 sides: the driver who left the scene and the victim who was injured or whose property was damaged.
The New Jersey Statutes Annotated (NJSA) Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulations Title 39 § 4-129 governs what happens when a person leaves the scene of an accident. The 3 main provisions of the law include:
- A driver knowingly involved in an accident that results in injury, death, or damage to any vehicle (including their own) or other property must stop immediately at the scene of the accident without obstructing traffic any more than necessary.
- The driver must remain at the scene until they’ve provided their name and address, driver’s license, and vehicle registration to the owner of the damaged property. If the owner isn’t available, they must leave a written note with the information or report the accident to the police.
- The driver is also required to provide assistance to an injured person (including transporting an injured person to a hospital if it’s reasonable to do so).
Penalties for a hit and run in New Jersey
The penalties for a driver who violates the New Jersey law for leaving the scene of an accident are:
- $200-$400 fine
- Up to 3 months of jail time
- Suspended license for up to 6 months
- 2 points on driver’s license
Personal injury or fatality:
- $2,500-$5,000 fine
- Up to 6 months of jail time
- Suspended license for 1 year (for first offense)
- Permanent loss of license (for subsequent offense)
- Criminal charges that result in a prison sentence
- 8 points on driver’s license
It’s worth noting that the law relates to a driver “knowingly” involved in an accident, but it also says that if there’s any personal injury or property damage in the amount of $250 or more, the driver is presumed to have known that the accident happened.
If law enforcement can’t determine who the driver was who committed a hit-and-run but you’re able to capture the license plate information, the owner of the car can be found and held responsible.
What to do if your parked car was damaged by a hit-and-run driver
My parked car was hit, and I don’t know who did it. What now?
Think about what happens if you leave a store or business (or your home) and you discover that there’s a dent in your car that wasn’t there before. If there isn’t a note or an indication about what happened, you’re probably reeling with the realization that you’ve been the victim of a hit-and-run.
What can you do if your parked car was hit? Follow these steps:
- Call the police. Stay at the scene to make a report.
- Look for witnesses. If you’re in a busy parking lot or were only away from your car for a short time, perhaps there’s someone nearby who saw the accident. If you’re in a business’ parking lot, you might ask the business if it has any surveillance cameras that could’ve captured the incident on video.
- Take photos. Take pictures of your vehicle from all angles, including its placement in the parking spot or at the curb.
- Take notes. Be as specific as possible about the location, time, date, and other details about the scene.
- Call your insurance company. If you can call from the scene, do so. They might have specific images they want you to photograph, or they might ask for other evidence that could be lost if you leave the scene.
Filing an insurance claim after a hit-and-run crash
A “basic coverage” insurance policy in New Jersey doesn’t usually include uninsured motorist coverage. But if you have a “standard coverage” policy, you would have uninsured motorist coverage up to the amount of your liability maximum. You should be able to make a claim for a hit-and-run accident under your uninsured motorist coverage if you can’t identify the driver.
If you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage, you can make a claim under your collision coverage if you have it.
A hit-and-run accident on the road
If you’re in an accident while driving and the other driver flees the scene, that would also be a hit-and-run. If a driver tries to flee, don’t try to apprehend them yourself. Leave it to the police. You don’t know if they’re dangerous in other ways, and you don’t want to be involved in a more serious situation.
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)
- Damage to the other car
- A physical description of the individual if you can get a look (male or female, height, hair color, etc.)
If there are witnesses, get their contact information.
What if the driver gives you false information?
A hit-and-run isn’t always someone who hits your car and flees the scene. It can also occur when the driver gives you false information — like a fake name and phone number — and then you have no way to reach them later.
If you’re in a car accident, ask to see the driver’s license, registration, and insurance card. Even if the damage is so minor that you don’t think you’ll pursue a claim, it’s good to have this information just in case you later discover that the damage is more than it initially appeared. Unless you’re an auto expert, it’s hard to know just by looking at your car what might be damaged under the exterior.
The possibility of false information is also 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.
What if YOU hit a parked car?
You’re required to report the collision to the owner of the vehicle. If you’re able to find the owner immediately, a verbal admission would satisfy this requirement. If the driver isn’t available or identifiable right away, you must make a written report (in other words, leave a note).
Your note must include the following information:
- The time, date, and location of the accident
- Your vehicle’s license plate number and registration number
- Your name and address
- Your driver’s license number
If you want to be on the safe side, you can also call the police to report the collision.
How to recover damages after a hit-and-run accident in New Jersey
Your first call should be to your insurance company. Your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) only covers medical treatment. If you were injured, your insurance should cover your medical expenses regardless of who was at fault for the accident.
For damage to your vehicle, your insurer will likely pursue compensation from the other driver’s insurance company under their property damage policy. If the costs for your medical coverage exceed your PIP policy, you can make a claim against the other driver’s bodily injury policy.
Often, a driver leaves the scene of an accident and commits a hit-and-run because they don’t have insurance.
If you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage or collision, your only option might be to file a lawsuit — and recovering damages that way might be difficult if the driver doesn’t have a lot of assets.
If that’s the situation, your best bet is to call a personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can evaluate the claim, work with your insurance company, and pursue the other driver if necessary.
To learn about your options for financial recovery if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run, use the free Enjuris lawyer directory to find a New Jersey attorney near you who can help resolve your claim.