What Happens After a Hit-and-Run?
In the disorienting aftermath of a hit-and-run car accident, victims find themselves grappling with the physical and emotional toll of the incident. The sudden disappearance of the responsible party adds an additional layer of complexity to an already challenging situation. What happens when another vehicle strikes your car and flees the scene? If another vehicle never actually strikes your vehicle, but forces you from the roadway, causing your car to flip or hit a tree? In many instances, it is difficult to identify or locate the driver of such “hit and run” vehicles. What do you do?
Certainly, any investigation of the accident should focus on identifying and locating the offending driver. Modern technology can help. Cameras are everywhere. Did a local business have outside cameras that may have captured footage of the incident? Often, the cameras are on a loop and recycle within hours or days. Hence, locating and saving any such footage can be invaluable in bringing the true defendant into the case.
Witnesses may be located. Some may step forward on their own. They stop to assist or may also have been affected by the hit and run driver. They too are struck, or they too avoid a collision and suffer from the incident. Sometimes you can use social media or ads to locate witnesses and encourage them to step forward. In short, conduct an immediate investigation.
Do I Need a Car Accident Attorney?
Evidence and the memory of witnesses become stale very shortly after an incident. Photographs, diagrams, police reports, witness statements, camera footage, and pieces of wreckage at the scene may all contribute to identifying a hit-and-run driver. Later proving that the driver was negligent and correspondingly responsible for the injuries caused. Experienced automobile collision attorneys know what to do. They can make arrangements to preserve evidence, locate and interview witnesses, and seek out camera footage that may be invaluable in proving your hit-and-run car accident case. Do not delay. In the case of a hit-and-run car accident, always call the police. In addition to civil responsibility for your personal injuries, the offending driver may be criminally liable for leaving the scene of an accident.
A Hit-and Run May Affect How You Pursue Compensation
If they can identify and locate the hit-and-run driver, your case may proceed as any other motor vehicle case, with a claim or lawsuit against the offending driver. His or her insurance will usually be financially responsible, up to any limits of liability coverage, for the damages you can prove resulted from the collision. Leaving the scene of the collision may have other impacts. Such as favorable evidence in your case, or criminal prosecution by law enforcement.
But all too often, the person who flees the scene cannot be located or identified. Therefore, one must pursue compensation through his or her own insurance policy. Missouri and Kansas require all automobile liability insurance policies to also carry “uninsured motor vehicle coverage.” This coverage directly protects you against either identifiable motorists who have no automobile liability insurance, or motorists they cannot identify and consider “phantoms.”
Uninsured Motorists Who Can be Identified
Let’s assume they find fleeing suspect, but as is often the case with folks who flee the scene, he/she has no liability insurance. A claim against your own automobile insurer is the necessary avenue for compensation. Your insurance company will essentially stand in the shoes of the offending driver. Although your insurance company is the named defendant, they pursue your case some unique aspects. As if you were actually suing the driver who caused you injury.
In any uninsured motorist claim for which they can identify the driver, you must first prove that the driver is uninsured for the incident. Often, the offending driver will simply admit that he/she has no liability insurance. What if you can identify the offending driver, but cannot locate him or her to officially include in the lawsuit? How do you then prove the driver was “uninsured”? Claims for uninsured motor vehicle coverage are “breach of contract” claims. This is because your claim is one against your own insurance company, with which you have a contract (policy) of insurance. All such policies have definitions of how to identify an “uninsured” motorist. Suffice it to say, insurance companies make this difficult to prove.
Absent direct proof that the driver does not have liability insurance, one must engage in a due diligence exercise to try and prove the existence of insurance. This can be painstaking, but cases exist that show a roadmap on steps that one can take.
For more information on uninsured motorists, check out our page.
Stuart v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company
Many years ago, an attorney with Monsees & Mayer helped create some legal support for proving a driver is uninsured. The following is a verbatim discussion by the Missouri Court of Appeals in Stuart v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, a case involving a hit-and-run driver who could not be located until she mysteriously appeared in a trial against State Farm:
[P]laintiff and his wife drove back to Hot Springs to find Ms. Taylor. They first inquired of the Garland County Sheriff, but his files revealed no record of the other driver. A driver’s license check was also fruitless. Without success, they called all the Taylors listed in the local telephone book and all the local body shops trying to find Ms. Taylor or her husband.
Plaintiff’s attorney also tried to find the elusive Ms. Taylor. In 1979, he wrote to the Garland County Sheriff requesting a copy of the accident report. The sheriff’s office responded that they could not find the report. A similar written request was made to the Arkansas state police, but they also found no record of the report. Plaintiff’s attorney next wrote to Ms. Taylor at a Hot Springs address provided by defendant in its response to plaintiff’s interrogatory. There was no answer and no return of the letter.
In 1980, plaintiff’s attorney once again wrote the sheriff and provided him with additional information on Ms. Taylor. Unfortunately, the sheriff was still unable to find the missing accident report. Next, the attorney wrote the Arkansas Department of Motor Vehicles seeking Ms. Taylor’s driving record. The office refused to provide the request without written authorization from Ms. Taylor. Finally, in 1984, plaintiff’s attorney wrote the Hot Springs’ postmaster requesting her address, again without success.
Three days before trial, defendant supplemented its interrogatory answer with an address for Ms. Taylor in Arlington, Texas. The supplemental response did not state that Ms. Taylor had remarried and was now Rebecca Jo Hamilton. Plaintiff did not talk with Ms. Taylor prior to her testimony at trial.
She testified that she had not been contacted by defendants until three days before the trial and that she had only lived at the Arlington address for a few weeks. As well as that she had lived with her stepmother in 1979 at the Hot Springs address and that her stepmother continued to live there until 1983. She further testified that defendant had contacted her stepmother at some time before it contacted her, but she did not know exactly when that occurred. After leaving Hot Springs in 1979, Ms. Taylor had lived in the State of Washington and in Canada. She had briefly returned to Hot Springs before moving to Texas in 1983. She stated that after she moved from Arkansas in 1979 her stepmother knew where she was.
Finally, Ms. Taylor testified that she did not have insurance at the time of the accident. That the vehicle was owned by her former husband, and she did not know whether he had had insurance at that time.
While the question remained whether Ms. Taylor’s former husband had insurance that would have covered her operation of the vehicle, the Missouri court was persuaded that Plaintiff and his attorneys had exercised all due diligence to determine whether there was any insurance that covered Ms. Taylor’s operation of the vehicle. No direct proof was ever found, but neither was there any proof that she was insured. The efforts were successful, and the jury ruled that Ms. Taylor was uninsured. They awarded Mr. Stuart damages against his own insurance company.
Phantom Hit-and-Run Drivers
Proving that an unidentified person hit you and caused you personal injury is one of the toughest cases to prove. Being struck by a “phantom” may still give rise to a successful claim against your own motor vehicle insurer for uninsured motor vehicle benefits. To prove the claim, you must prove that the phantom exists. In addition to proving that the phantom’s negligence was directly responsible for your injuries. In other words, you may have your work cut out for you.
The insurance policy will dictate how, or if, you can prove such a claim. Many policies treat cases in which there was “contact” with the phantom more favorably than a case that forces someone from the road as an evasive maneuver. Objective damage to your vehicle helps to prove you did not simply lose control of your own vehicle due to distraction and inattention.
If there is no contact, there must be other objective evidence of the existence and roll of the phantom. Were there other eyewitnesses, is there camera footage from a nearby business or home? Were there markings on the roadway that signal the existence of another driver, such as skid marks into your lane of travel? Circumstantial evidence of the phantom can still be compelling but is not as directly reliable as witnesses and visible evidence.
The Bottom Line
Proving a hit-and-run car accident is a challenge. Not every attorney experienced in handling car accident cases is equally equipped to handle direct insurance cases for uninsured motorist benefits. Contact our office today to speak with one of our car accident attorneys and get assistance with your hit-and-run accident.