Car accidents are extremely stressful no matter what the circumstances are. Sometimes the situation can be made much more difficult when the individuals responsible for or involved in an accident drive away instead of exchanging information with the other driver. If you are wondering what to do in a hit and run, it is important to take down as much information as possible about the accident and the other driver. The first thing you should do is call the police. The next step you should take is to call your insurance company. Some policies cover damages from hit and runs, but not always. Be sure to know what kind of coverage you have.
Hit and Run Accidents in California
Hit and runs are not limited to traffic collisions. If a driver hits anything with their car, be it person or property, they are obligated to stop and provide their information to the person they hit, the owner of the property, or the police. Hit and run accidents are not as common as other accidents due to the additional legal trouble that comes with being found guilty of a hit and run misdemeanor or felony. Strict California hit and run laws may be having a positive impact on the number of hit and runs committed because according to the California Office of Traffic Safety, hit and run accidents had decreased by 4.7 percent from 2019 to 2020.
California Traffic Code defines the steps all drivers are expected to take after an accident:
- Pull over out of the flow of traffic
- Offer reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured
- Exchange information
The main details that drivers are expected to exchange are:
- Driver’s name
- Driver’s address
- Vehicle registration number
- Names and addresses of injured passengers
- Insurance information
If a driver does not pull over after an accident and exchange information, or in the case of a serious accident, if they leave before the police arrive, they may be charged with a hit and run. Generally, a hit and run that results in property damage and no injuries is considered a misdemeanor, but if there are injuries, then the hit and run charge will be upgraded to a felony. Exceptions can be made in the event that someone needs immediate medical attention, but even then, it is good to try and leave some kind of contact information.
There are many reasons why someone might feel compelled to leave the scene of an accident:
- They did not have a valid driver’s license
- They were afraid the accident would cost them their license
- They were not insured
- They were afraid the accident would increase their insurance costs
- They did not own the car
- They were drunk
- They had drugs or stolen property with them
Just because someone left the scene, does not necessarily mean they were at fault for the accident. However, even if a driver is not at fault and they flee the scene, they can be charged with a hit and run. Not only that but the act of fleeing the scene of the accident casts a negative light on the driver in question and gives the appearance of guilt.
What to Do After a Hit and Run Accident in California
It is important to know what to do if you have been involved in an accident, particularly a hit and run crash. There are a few steps you should take immediately or as soon as you can.
Pull over – The most important thing after any accident is to make sure everyone is okay. Pull over somewhere as safe as possible and check for any injuries. Even if you feel fine, you should still be checked out by a medical professional.
Call 911 – This step in necessary for 2 reasons. You will want to speak with paramedics to determine if you need medical attention in addition to the police when they arrive upon the scene of the accident. Report the hit and run and make an official statement. See if you can get bystanders to make witness statements as well. It is good to have a police report for the insurance claim and to attempt to locate the driver who fled. It is important to give the police as much information as you can about them.
Take down details – Record as much as possible. Take photos of the scene and the damage. Write down as much as you can remember about the driver and their car. Identifying features such as make and model, color, and bumper stickers can help track down the vehicle. Approximate descriptions of the driver such as age, gender, and hair color can help verify their identity. Accidents happen quickly, and it may not be possible to get things like a full license plate number or a detailed description of the driver, so it is important to compile as much information as possible. It can also help to document any debris that may have been left behind at the scene of the accident by the offending driver.
Call the insurance company – Report the accident to the insurance company. Check to see what your coverage is in the event of a hit and run. There are different types of coverage that handle different situations and not all insurance covers hit and run accidents.
Call a hit and run lawyer – Before signing any agreements with the insurance company, talk to a lawyer regarding the details of the accident and what your options are. They may be able to help file a claim and negotiate compensation.
Does Insurance Cover Hit and Run Accident in California?
While insurance companies to not have specific hit and run coverage, there are some policies that will help. Your own collision coverage can cover vehicle repairs, but you would have to pay the deductible and it does not cover injuries. Uninsured motorist coverage can cover injuries but will only cover vehicle repairs if you can identify the other driver.
Unfortunately, due to the high costs of auto insurance, many people do not have additional coverage past the bare minimum. State required minimums do not include coverage that would extend to hit and run accidents. Certain types of coverage will help pay for damages in the event of a hit and run, while others will only help if you are able to identify the other driver.
Types of coverage that allow you to claim a hit and run
- Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist: Bodily Injury
Types of coverage that allow you to claim a hit and run if you know the identity of the driver
- Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist: Property Damage
- Liability coverage on their policy
Types of coverage that do not allow you to claim hit and run
Insurance Costs of Claiming a Hit and Run Accident
After a hit and run, you may be worried that your insurance rates will go up. Fortunately, according to California law, insurance companies can not raise a person’s rates after they have been the victim of a hit and run, provided that person submits their claim as soon as possible. Depending on your individual policy and the types of coverage you have, your insurance might pay for some of the damages caused by a hit and run. However, if the other driver is never identified, you will still have to pay the deductible, regardless of whether you were at fault or not.
Potential Damages Recovered in a Hit and Run Accident
There are many different ways a hit and run accident can affect your life, and the costs involved can pile up. Fortunately, in California there is no cap on damages awarded from a hit and run accident. Damages that may be compensated include:
- Emotional distress
- Loss of quality of life
- Lost wages
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Vehicle Repairs
- Wrongful death
Receiving compensation for a hit and run accident can be complicated. It can be difficult to quantify everything, and different insurance policies will only cover specific circumstances. It is helpful in these situations to seek an attorney to help sort everything out and handle negotiations with the insurance company.
What Happens if the At Fault Driver is Found
Fleeing the scene of a car accident is illegal in the state of California. If the driver who fled the scene is found, then the police may press criminal hit and run charges against them, though this does not always mean they will be convicted. Also, even if they are convicted of criminal charges, that does not necessarily mean that you will be fully compensated for your losses. While the court may order them to pay restitution as part of the criminal case, you may also need to file a civil suit against them for the remainder of the damages.
Penalties for Hit and Run Accidents in California
The state of California has specific laws and penalties regarding people who flee the scene of an accident. If the driver is caught and identified, they can face criminal charges in the form of a felony or misdemeanor hit and run. If they are convicted, the penalties they face are based on the extent of the damage they caused.
- If the accident resulted in property damage, but no one was injured, then the defendant may be sentenced to spend up to six months in county jail as a fine as high as $1,000.
- If the accident resulted in injuries, then the defendant may be sentenced to spend up to a year in county jail or state prison as well as a fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
- If the accident resulted in injuries or death, then the defendant may be sentenced to anywhere from two to four years in state prison as well as a fine as high as $10,000.
California hit and run drivers may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the damage caused. An accident that causes some property damage will often be charged as a misdemeanor whereas accidents that result in fatalities are most often charged as a felony.
Evidence Needed to Establish Negligence in a Hit and Run Accident
It is helpful to know what to do after a hit and run. It is always wise to collect as much information as you can. Your lawyer will need evidence to prove what happened, who did it, and what the damages are. There are many different types of evidence that can be useful in a hit and run claim:
- Photos and videos you were able to get of the accident
- Descriptive details of the other car – make, model, plate number
- Descriptive details of the other driver – age, gender, hair color
- Surveillance footage from any nearby security cameras
- Witness testimony from bystanders
- Expert reconstruction of the accident
- Medical bills and records showing injuries and medical costs
- Financial documents that can prove lost wages
Get a Hit and Run Lawyer to Assist with Your Claim
Car accidents are already a difficult enough experience without having to track down and identify the person who hit you or finding ways to utilize your own insurance for the damages. Receiving compensation after a hit and run accident can be complicated and overwhelming. No one should have to go through all that on their own. A hit and run attorney can help you sort through all your evidence and expenses, build and file a claim, negotiate with the insurance companies, and help you receive the compensation you deserve. Our law firm is experienced and dedicated to helping you through every step of the process. If you have been the victim of a hit and run accident, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.
Hit and Run Claim FAQs
How much time do you get for a hit and run in California?
According to California state law, committing a hit and run can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. A hit and run that only causes property damage is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by time in a county jail of up to six months. A hit and run that causes bodily injury or death is considered a felony. Minor injuries can earn someone up to a year in county jail or state prison. Serious permanent injuries or death can earn someone three months to a year in county jail, or two to four years in state prison.
Can I sue for hit and run in California?
If you can locate and positively identify the person who hit you, then you may be able to file a civil suit against them for compensation for your damages. The police may file criminal charges against them, and the court may order them to pay restitution if they are convicted, but this does not affect any civil case you may want to bring against them. This also means that even if they are convicted, that does not mean you will definitely be awarded compensation. A person may flee the scene of the accident, but they still may be found not at fault for the accident itself.
Does California investigate hit and runs?
If you are the victim of a hit and run accident, you should report the accident to the police immediately. They will take your statement as well as any bystanders who may have seen what happened. They will collect evidence and make a report. They will then investigate to try and locate the driver. Sometimes there are enough clues from the evidence at the scene such as a photo of the license plate. Sometimes they will even visit nearby hospitals and mechanics to see if anyone recently came in after a car accident. The insurance company will do its own investigation into who was at fault for the accident and if compensation will be awarded.
Do police investigate minor hit and runs in California?
Committing a hit and run is a crime. Therefore, the police are generally required to investigate if there was any property damage or injury, no matter how minor. More severe and major cases may take precedence however, and there is no guarantee that they will find the driver. In any case, it is always a good idea to get a police report of the accident no matter how small to give to the insurance company. Also, if the accident resulted in more than $1000 of property damage or any bodily injuries no matter how minor, it must be reported to the DMV.