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.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, around 11 percent of all car accidents reported to the police involve a hit and run driver. A hit and run accident can be especially frustrating because the at-fault driver might get away with causing your injuries and vehicle damage while violating criminal laws. In some situations, you'll be out of luck if you want to get reimbursed for your losses (damages) stemming from a hit and run car accident. But you might have options for recovery.

Hit and Run Accidents in 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 (what's covered depends on the specifics of the state's no-fault rules).

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 thresholds are met in terms of the cost and/or seriousness of your injuries. 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.

Hit and Run Accidents in Fault-Based Car Insurance States

In a traditional liability-based 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 motorist car insurance coverage, also known as UIM.

UIM coverage pays for your car accident-related losses when the responsible driver has no car insurance. From the perspective of the UIM coverage, an unknown at-fault driver is the equivalent of a known at-fault driver who has no car insurance.

In most states, 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 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's 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 car 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. That's because many hit and run drivers:

  • do not have car insurance
  • are driving an unregistered vehicle
  • are unlicensed, 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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