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

After a car accident with a hit and run driver, your options will depend on where you live and your car insurance coverage.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law
Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

In 2015, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, over 730,000 car accidents in the United States involved a hit-and-run driver. That's 11% of all accidents.

Every state requires drivers to stop at the scene of a car accident. Hit-and-run accidents involve drivers who leave the scene of the crash without stopping to identify themselves or help others involved in the crash. Hit-and-run drivers can be criminally prosecuted and put in jail, sued in civil court for money, or both.

If you've been injured by a hit-and-run driver, you probably want to know what could happen to the driver, and you need to know what you can do to get compensation for your losses ("damages").

In this article, you'll learn:

  • what to do right after a hit-and-run accident
  • your insurance claim options
  • consequences for hit-and-run drivers, and
  • how a lawyer can help you.

What Is a Hit and Run?

A "hit-and-run" happens when a driver involved in an accident fails to stop at the scene of the crash, share contact and insurance information, and give any needed assistance.

Hit-and-run accidents cause all of the same headaches that typical car accidents cause along with additional burdens. A hit-and-run victim's injuries might be more severe because it took longer to get medical treatment. And hit-and-run victims are less likely to get compensation for accident-related losses (like car repair and medical bills), especially when they can't find the driver who hit them.

What You Should Do Immediately After a Hit-and-Run Accident

The first thing you should do after a hit-and-run accident is to make sure everyone is safe. Don't follow the fleeing driver. Instead, call 911 if you or anyone involved in the accident is injured and then call the police. A hit-and-run violation is a crime. The police will write a report and start looking for the driver.

Gather as much information about the fleeing car and driver as you can, including:

  • license plate number (even a partial number is helpful)
  • make, model, and color
  • description of accident-related damage
  • description of the driver, and
  • the direction the fleeing car was headed.

You'll also want to:

  • find witnesses who saw the car accident (other drivers, people on the street, shopkeepers in the neighborhood)
  • look for surveillance and doorbell cameras in the area, and
  • take photos of the damage to your car and your injuries.

How Insurance Claims Work After a Hit and Run

If you're injured in a hit-and-run, insurance might help you cover the cost of car repairs, transportation, medical bills, and other accident-related expenses. Let's take a look at when you might—and might not—be covered.

At-Fault States

All states require drivers to have insurance. Most states follow an "at-fault" model: The driver who's to blame for the accident pays for accident-related damages, usually through liability-based car insurance. Of course, if you don't know who the at-fault driver is, you won't get compensation from that driver's insurer.

So, if you're injured by a hit-and-run driver in an at-fault state, you'll probably have to rely on your own insurance coverage for compensation (see below) or file a civil lawsuit if you manage to track the driver down. You might also be able to turn to your state's crime victim compensation board. These government-run compensation programs can help crime victims recoup losses even when an offender hasn't been convicted.

No-Fault States

If you're the victim of a hit-and-run in one of the dozen or so no-fault insurance states, your own "personal injury protection" (PIP) car insurance will likely cover your medical bills, lost earnings, and other injury-related expenses like household help. PIP is mandatory in no-fault states (and an optional add-on in most at-fault states). You can make a PIP claim regardless of who caused the accident.

But PIP doesn't cover vehicle damage after an accident. You'll need collision coverage to get your car fixed or replaced after an accident.

Learn more about PIP claims after a car accident.

Your Own Health and Car Insurance

You might be able to make a claim under your own car insurance policy to cover some expenses after a hit-and-run accident. A claim against your own insurance company is called a "first-party claim." You don't have to know who hit you to make a first-party claim. Coverage varies from state to state and depends on the details of your policy. Potential options include:

PIP or medical payments (Medpay). These no-fault insurance policies cover your medical bills and some injury-related losses whether you're at fault for the accident or the victim of a hit and run. Learn more about PIP and Medpay claims.

Collision coverage. This kind of insurance typically pays to repair or replace your vehicle if it's been damaged in a collision with another car. So, if you're the victim of a hit and run, you might be able to make a claim on your collision policy even if the other driver isn't found.

Uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured or underinsured motorist (UMI) insurance covers your medical bills, pain and suffering, and other losses from a hit-and-run accident. Learn more about making a UMI claim.

Tracking Down the Hit-and-Run Driver

If you've been injured in a hit-and-run accident, it's normal to want to find the driver who hurt you. Hit-and-run driving is a crime (see below) and your ability to get compensation for your losses might depend on finding the driver.

No matter how eager you are to hold someone accountable, you should never chase a hit-and-run driver. It's dangerous. And the evidence you need to potentially find the driver—witnesses, surveillance video—is at the scene. The best thing you can do is call the police and give them the information they need to track the driver down.

If You Can't Find the Hit-and-Run Driver

Don't be surprised if the police aren't able to find the driver. Some hit-and-run drivers are driving stolen or unregistered cars. Some are unlicensed, uninsured, or driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. But sometimes the police are able to find a fleeing driver using the information (license plate number, names of witnesses) you gathered at the scene. And, sometimes, hit and run drivers have a change of heart and turn themselves in to authorities.

If You Can Find the Hit-and-Run Driver

If you find the driver, you can file a claim with the driver's insurance company for your accident-related losses. If the driver is uninsured, you'll need to file a personal injury lawsuit to try to get compensation and hope that the driver has enough assets for you to collect if you win your case.

Consequences for Hit-and-Run Drivers

The criminal penalties for hit-and-run driving vary from state to state. Drivers who leave the scene of an accident involving an injury typically can be charged with a felony and sentenced to serve a year or more in prison. Hit and run drivers who cause only property damage, usually face misdemeanor charges. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies, but still carry a maximum sentence of up to a year in jail, fines, or both. Any conviction for hit and run, misdemeanor or felony, will likely result in an automatic driver's license suspension or revocation from six months to three years.

People injured in car accidents (plaintiffs) can file lawsuits in civil court against hit and run divers (defendants) asking for "compensatory damages." Compensatory damages are meant to make plaintiffs whole by paying for losses like medical bills, time away from work, property damage, and pain and suffering. In some states, victims of hit-and-run drivers can ask the court to impose punitive damages on top of compensatory damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for outrageous or reprehensible behavior.

Learn more about the consequences of hit-and-run driving.

Do You Need a Lawyer After a Hit and Run?

Being the victim of a hit-and-run driver is stressful and confusing. You are a witness in a criminal investigation. You'll probably have to make an insurance claim. You might even have to file a civil lawsuit to get the compensation you deserve. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you.

Car accident lawyers can answer your questions, organize your medical records and bills, communicate with insurers and health care providers, connect you with an investigator to help locate the fleeing driver, negotiate with insurance adjusters on your behalf, and represent you in court if necessary.

Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim.

Talk to a Car Accident Lawyer

If you've been injured by a hit-and-run driver, talk to a lawyer. You might already know a lawyer, either personally or because the lawyer has represented you before. Ask that lawyer, or other people you trust, for the name of a good car accident attorney.

Online resources like Nolo and AllLaw offer free legal information and attorney directories to help you put together a list of potential attorneys to talk to about your case. Learn more about when to hire a lawyer after a car accident. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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