How to recover damages after a hit-and-run accident
On a December evening, Antonio Mitchell was driving westbound on NW 16th Street in Newcastle, Oklahoma, when he collided with another vehicle.
When the driver he hit asked Antonio for a copy of his insurance, Antonio fled the scene. Moments later, he swerved into oncoming traffic and collided with a second car. The driver of the second car died upon impact, along with Antonio’s passenger.
The police arrested Antonio and determined that he was under the influence of alcohol, amphetamine, and marijuana.
A “hit-and-run” is a car accident in which one of the drivers flees the scene of the accident without stopping to exchange information and assist the other people involved in the crash.
Hit-and-run accidents are particularly frustrating because the innocent party may be left without someone to sue.
Fortunately, victims of hit-and-run crashes in Oklahoma have some legal options to recover damages, even if the at-fault driver is never found.
Let’s take a closer look.
Oklahoma does not maintain comprehensive hit-and-run statistics. But it’s safe to say hit-and-run crashes happen more than you think in the Sooner State.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a hit-and-run occurs every 43 seconds in the United States. Though not as frequent, fatal hit-and-run crashes occur far more frequently than anyone would like.
|Hit-and-run fatalities in the United States|
|Type of fatality||2019||2020|
|Hit-and-run fatalities in Oklahoma|
Source: AAA Foundation
Oklahoma’s hit-and-run law
Oklahoma’s hit-and-run law can be found in Section 47-10-104 of the Oklahoma Statutes. The law is very similar to most other states.
To be convicted under Oklahoma’s hit-and-run law, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of the following elements:
- The defendant was involved in an accident while driving a vehicle;
- The accident resulted in injury, death, or property damage;
- The defendant knew they were involved in an accident; and
- The defendant did not immediately stop at the scene of the accident and (a) provide the other parties with their name and address, registration number, and driver’s license, and (b) render reasonable assistance to any injured parties.
If you hit an unoccupied vehicle, you still have a couple of legal obligations:
- Stop your car at the scene of the accident, and
- Locate the owner or leave a written note providing your name and contact information.
Hit-and-run penalties in Oklahoma
A person who violates Oklahoma’s hit-and-run law faces a fine and possible jail time depending on the nature of the crash:
|Oklahoma hit-and-run penalties|
|Type of accident||Imprisonment||Fine|
|Property-damage only||Not more than 1 year||$0 to $500|
|Non-fatal injury||10 days to 2 years||$50 to $1,000|
|Fatal injury||1 year to 10 years||$1,000 to $10,000|
In addition to the penalties described above, a person who violates Oklahoma’s hit-and-run law will be subject to liability for damages in an amount equal to three times the value of the damage caused by the accident.
Can I recover damages after a hit-and-run accident?
If the hit-and-run driver is found, you can file an insurance claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company or file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver to recover damages.
Unfortunately, most hit-and-run cases remain unsolved. So how do you recover damages when you can’t locate the person responsible for your accident?
Your own car insurance may be able to provide you with relief.
In Oklahoma, the following types of optional coverage typically provide some relief in the event of a hit-and-run accident:
- Collision coverage provides coverage for damages to your vehicle caused by an accident with another vehicle or an object, regardless of who is at fault for the accident.
- MedPay provides coverage for medical expenses incurred by you and your passengers, regardless of who is at fault for the accident.
- Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage sustained by you or the passengers in your vehicle as a result of an accident involving an uninsured driver or an accident involving a hit-and-run driver.
Steps to take following a hit-and-run accident in Oklahoma
If you’re involved in a hit-and-run accident, don’t chase after the fleeing driver. Chasing a fleeing driver puts you and everyone else on the road in danger.
Instead, follow these steps:
- Move your vehicle. Move your vehicle to a safe spot off the road if possible.
- Call the police. Call the police and report the accident. Be sure to provide them with any information you have about the hit-and-run vehicle. In addition to traveling to the scene of the accident, a police officer can put out an alert so other officers in the area can look for the fleeing vehicle.
- Take photographs and talk to witnesses. Be sure to take photographs of the accident scene as well as any damage to your vehicle. Additionally, it’s a good idea to collect the contact information of any witnesses so that the police can interview them.
- Contact your insurance company. Contact your insurance company to see if your policy covers hit-and-run accidents. Keep in mind that most insurance companies require you to notify them within a certain time period following a crash to receive coverage.