Being involved in an auto accident that isn't your fault can be a frustrating process, rife with reams of paperwork and multiple hard-to-answer questions about your actions prior to (and just after) the incident. This frustration can be even further compounded when you're not yet certain who was responsible for your accident, as in the case of a hit-and-run driver who has left the scene. You may wonder how you'll recover financial damages if you're not able to definitively point to an individual defendant or worry that your own uninsured motorist coverage may not be enough to fully compensate you for your injuries.
Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be), hit-and-run accidents are commonplace enough that each state has its own standards and policies as to how it deals with these incidents. Read on to learn more about your legal options--and how a personal injury case will proceed--when you're injured by a hit-and-run driver.
What are your legal rights if you're injured by a hit-and-run driver?
Not only is a driver who has left the scene before a police report can be generated more likely to be deemed at-fault in the underlying accident, leaving the scene of a property damage or injury-causing accident is classified as a misdemeanor or felony in most states. This means that, in addition to any civil penalties (like a personal injury judgment) that may be assessed, the person responsible for hitting your vehicle could also spend some time in jail.
These dual penalties can provide some incentive for drivers who may regret their split-second decision to leave the scene, forcing a hit-and-run driver to come forward and confess; doing so can help avoid the much more severe penalties that may be assessed if a driver is later identified as the responsible party in a hit-and-run accident.
If you're unable to identify the hit-and-run driver and witness statements or surveillance footage aren't enough to narrow down a suspect, you'll need to work with your auto insurance company to ensure your claims are covered. Often, your auto insurer will make you whole by covering the cost of any property damage or medical bills and then seek subrogation against the responsible party years or even decades later if he or she is "outed."
Alternatively, you may want to gather the evidence you do have (including a physical description of the vehicle and driver) and paper the neighborhood with fliers offering a reward for any information that leads to the driver's identification. This type of cash reward can provide witnesses with an incentive to unmask the driver while giving you (and your insurance company) someone against whom recovery can be sought.
What will you need to prove to recover against your hit-and-run driver?
If you are able to identify the driver who struck you, you'll need to prove at least three factors by a preponderance of the evidence before you'll be entitled to collect a financial judgment.
First, you'll have to show that the driver owed you a duty of care (and that the person being sued was the driver or other responsible party). Next, you'll need to show that the driver breached this duty of care and that this breach was the proximate cause of your injury. You'll also need to provide evidence of actual damages, from a repair bill to medical expenses you sustained.
This burden of proof can be made far easier when you're dealing with a hit-and-run defendant; although leaving the scene of an accident isn't evidence of guilt in and of itself, it does provide the defendant with an uphill battle when he or she attempts to rebut your allegations of fault for the accident that caused you injury and damaged your vehicle.
Contact a lawyer from a firm like James Munafo & Associates PC to learn more about taking legal action after an accident.