Options If You're Injured by a Hit and Run Driver

Your options after getting injured by a hit and run driver will largely depend on what state you’re in and whether you've purchased certain car insurance add-ons.

According to the  AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, approximately 11% of all  car accidents  reported to the police involve a hit and run driver. A hit and run can be especially frustrating because the at-fault driver might get away with not only causing your injuries and vehicle damage, but also violating criminal laws. It's true that in some situations, you'll be out of luck if you want to get reimbursed for your losses stemming from a hit and run car accident. But in other instances you do have options for recovery. Read on for the details.

No-Fault Car Insurance States

If you’re involved in a hit and run accident in one of the dozen or so  no-fault car insurance  states, if you weren't hurt all that badly, your ability to  recover compensation for injuries  and certain out-of-pocket losses will be pretty much the same as if the driver responsible for causing your accident never left the scene. This is because in a no-fault car insurance state, your own no-fault or "personal injury protection" insurance pays your medical bills, lost income, and usually the cost of "replacement services" like household help, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.

Of course, financial recovery for these losses is capped by your policy limits. Every state makes it possible to step outside the confines of the no-fault system and hold the at-fault driver liable for losses stemming from the accident, but only if certain injury thresholds are met. And obviously, if you can't identify the at-fault driver, even if your injuries qualify under your state's threshold, stepping outside of no-fault won't get you anywhere. Finally, keep in mind that no-fault/Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage usually won't apply to your vehicle damage. You'll typically need collision coverage to get reimbursed for vehicle damage caused by a hit and run driver. Learn more about  vehicle repair options and insurance coverage after a car accident.

Fault-Based Car Insurance States

In a traditional liability car insurance state, in order to recover for your injuries and property damage, you will need to either track down the responsible driver and recover your losses from them (more on this later), or you'll need to have uninsured/underinsured motorist car insurance coverage, also known as UM/UIM.

UM/UIM coverage pays for your car accident-related losses when the responsible driver has no car insurance or doesn’t have enough coverage to fully compensate you. From the perspective of the UM/UIM coverage, an unknown at-fault driver is the equivalent of a known at-fault driver who has no car insurance.

In most states, UM/UIM coverage is optional, and many drivers will forgo this kind of add-on coverage to save money on their car insurance premiums. But this can be a very shortsighted strategy, especially since UM/UIM coverage is often pretty affordable. Learn more about  making an underinsured/uninsured motorist claim.

Tracking Down the Hit and Run Driver

Even though it is a crime to leave the scene of an accident, many hit and run drivers never get caught. If the police get involved, they will do their best to investigate. In many states, the police won’t investigate a hit and run unless there is bodily injury. Even with an investigation, unless you can provide good leads as to who the hit and run driver might be, the police aren’t likely to be able to find the person.

You can increase the chances of identifying the hit and run driver by taking certain steps as soon as possible  after the accident:

  • Write down all the details about the vehicle that hit you: color, make, model, license plate number, and description of the driver. The license plate number will probably be the single most important piece of information you can obtain, even if it's just a partial number.
  • Find any witnesses who saw the accident. It could be other drivers or bystanders. If the accident occurred in a highly populated area, such as a shopping center or a neighborhood, you might be able to go door to door or shop to shop and find someone who saw what happened. If you get really lucky, someone might have surveillance video that captured the accident.
  • Take pictures of the damage. There may be clues in the damage that could help find the driver, such as paint remnants.

Keep in mind that even if you can track down the hit and run driver, it might be hard to recover any money from them. Often the same reason the driver flees the scene of an accident is the same reason he or she would be unable to pay for any damages or injuries you suffered. For instance, many hit and run drivers:

  • do not have car insurance
  • are driving an unregistered vehicle
  • are unlicensed
  • are undocumented immigrants, or
  • were in the act of committing a crime when they hit you.

If the hit-and run driver has insurance, you'll be in luck, and their liability coverage will pay for your injuries and vehicle damage, up to policy limits. But if they're uninsured, you'll need to file a  personal injury lawsuit  against them, and unless they have substantial assets or some other resources for paying a judgment, even if you win the case, your chances of recovering anything on the judgment will be pretty remote.

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