You’re driving along a busy street when suddenly you notice a car approaching rapidly from behind. It’s changing lanes erratically, barely missing other vehicles as it continues to approach you. Finally, you get hit from behind. You are stunned. You start to pull off to the side of the road when you notice the responsible vehicle is speeding away from the accident scene. They obviously have no intention of sticking around to exchange information with you. You suddenly get the eerie feeling that you are the victim of a hit and run accident. Whatever you do not chase the other vehicle. You might be tempted to do so in an effort to get the license plate number but that might be very dangerous.
The first thing you should do if you are involved in a hit and run accident is pull over to a safe place and write down as much information about the responsible party as you can recall. Ask any passengers you have to assist you. If you glanced at the license plate, try to remember as much as you can and write it down as soon as possible. Even having the make, model, and color of the responsible party's vehicle can be helpful. See if you can remember the direction it was headed right before the accident. Also see if you can notice any damage the car may have sustained.
Take pictures of your vehicle and all the damage from the accident. Try to take the pictures of the surrounding accident scene as well. Most cell phones will offer timestamp photos. Maybe you can even take a video. Ask any witnesses at the scene to describe what they saw and do your best to write down. Ask them for their names and contact information so you and your insurance company might be able to get in touch with them in the future.
Make sure you call the police. In some cases, the police may not come to the scene if no one is injured or if there is minor damage. However, many insurance companies require you notify the police and obtain a police report after a hit and run accident. If that is the case, make sure you file a police report at some point, either at the scene or later on at the police station. You want to make sure you follow the rules of your insurance contract.
Call your insurance company and report the accident soon after (maybe even the same day if you can). Make sure you are accurate and truthful. Provide any witness information to your adjuster along with the police information (report number, etc.). If you have uninsured motorist coverage, that could come in very handy if you were injured in an accident with a hit and run driver. In some cases, the police might be able to find the hit and run driver. There might be penalties imposed on the driver including serious penalties and fines.
In my opinion, the most important aspect of any auto insurance policy is Uninsured Motorist Coverage (better to exceed $15K - get as much as you can). The number of people driving without insurance is staggering. I've seen too many cases involving clients that have been seriously hurt, but the responsible party has NO insurance, and my clients have nowhere else to turn! Uninsured motorist coverage usually covers "underinsured" motorist claims as well - situations when the other party did not have enough insurance to cover your losses.
Check your automobile coverage to see if you have Uninsured Motorist Coverage. Sometimes, it shows up as "UM Coverage" on your declarations page (the page your insurance company sends you which outlines the car insurance you have). It is important to get as much as you can afford. Check with your insurance professional and discuss your options. Sometimes, insurance companies fail to tell you about available UM coverage.
Also, if you make a claim pursuant to your UM coverage, your insurance company should treat you fairly and in very good faith since you are their direct client. That doesn't mean they have to buy every claim you present, and they may be skeptical at times. Remember, you are making a claim that needs to be proven as if you were bringing a claim against another insurance carrier.
I’ve recently been handling two personal injury cases that involved fairly serious injuries. The problem is that in both cases, the party responsible for the injury did not have enough insurance. In fact, in both cases, the responsible party had $25,000 in car insurance. Needless to say, my clients were not very happy about this fact but in both cases, they luckily had “uninsured” motorist (UM) coverage. In most cases, that also means “underinsured” motorist (when the other party doesn't have ENOUGH insurance). In fact, they had $100,000 in underinsured motorist coverage. That means if the other party doesn’t have “enough” you can turn to your own insurance company for additional coverage.
However, that probably still isn't enough to compensate them for their injuries. My clients were upset about this. However, the amount of UM coverage one has is completely within your control. Therefore, while you can’t control the amount of insurance the other party has, you can control the outcome to some extent by carrying a large UM policy. There are so many people driving out there without insurance or in some cases, not enough insurance, to it behooves you to explore adequate UM coverage. Ask your insurance company or broker about it. It’s probably the single most important piece of auto insurance coverage you can get.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.