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Though laws vary widely from state to state, some acts are so egregious that they are illegal nationwide. Leaving the scene of an accident is one of these crimes, and it carries hefty criminal and civil penalties.
When an accident occurs, the minimum expectation for all drivers is to provide identification and exchange contact and insurance information. If there are injuries, notifying emergency services is required in all 50 states. These minimum obligations are the reason committing hit and run is always illegal, as each requirement demands stopping after an accident.
Civil Damages in Hit and Run
There are two types of damages in a civil suit: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are exactly what they sound like: they compensate any expenses that result from the accident. These include both past and future expenses, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Compensatory damages are not awarded as a judgment against the defendant's behavior; they are proportionate to the committed offense.
Punitive damages are also exactly what they sound like: a form of punishment for bad behavior. In a hit and run suit, punitive damages may only be sought in the event that the fleeing driver, or the vehicle's owner, is known. Juries award punitive damages in cases where the defendant's actions caused harm to another person, whether those actions were reckless or intentional. As drivers are "deemed legally aware of their responsibilities" in an accident, leaving the scene constitutes an intentional act. This justifies punitive damages.
Determining Pain and Suffering in a Hit and Run Case
A suit in response to any type of car accident is a personal injury claim and may include pain and suffering damages. Sometimes called emotional distress or mental anguish, these claims may include physical pain, psychological or emotional pain, new physical limitations, and sexual dysfunctions.
Pain and suffering claims fall into two categories. Current pain and suffering encompasses what you've endured from the time of the accident up until a definite endpoint. It represents a measurable period of time. Current and future pain and suffering includes what you've endured since the accident through an indefinite future point. This period of time is unmeasurable because it is open-ended.
Your pain and suffering claim must fit into one of these categories. Though the first category results in a lower demand, you must prove the accident's negative impact on your quality of life no matter which category you choose. Do not claim a high amount simply as a bargaining tool or in order to collect a higher settlement. This may damage your case as it negatively impacts your credibility.
That said, you want to make sure to include everything relevant in your claim. Keep a journal that documents the daily impact of your injuries, even the personal details that may embarrass you. Time in traffic back and forth to medical appointments, psychological trauma, an inability to pick up your child, all of the things you can no longer do that you could do before the accident. This helps you put your pain and suffering claims into words, a necessary part of your suit.
Dealing with Hit and Run Insurance Companies
Even if the other driver is never found, you may be able to make a claim against your own insurance. No-fault insurance states allow compensation via your own insurance regardless of fault. States with traditional liability, however, do not, unless you carry underinsured or uninsured motorist (UIM) coverage on your policy. Without this coverage, you are unlikely to collect from your insurer.
Another option is your homeowner's insurance, which may have an extraneous events provision. If you do not have this provision, or UIM coverage, you must continue searching for the other driver (a good idea regardless). Start by looking for eyewitnesses and asking nearby businesses if they have security camera footage of the accident. This may provide leads in identifying the fleeing driver.
Sample Hit and Run Cases
Typically, these types of settlements are confidential, but there are some data available.
- A woman in Chicago was the victim of a truck driver who fled the scene. Her attorney settled her case with her insurer for $25,000.
- Also in Chicago, another hit and run case settled for the policy limit of $100,000, awarded to the passenger of a hit and run victim.
- A man in San Francisco was struck while crossing the street. The driver fled the scene, but the pedestrian recovered the $105,000 limit of his own UIM policy.
Contact a Hit and Run Attorney
If you are the victim of a hit and run accident, contact a personal injury attorney today for a free consultation. He or she will advise you on the viability of your suit and what steps you should take next.