Can I get a settlement in a hit and run?
California follows fault-based rules when it comes to auto accidents. Unlike in no-fault states, an injured party has the right to pursue damages against the driver who caused the accident. Needless to say, this is a lot more complicated in a hit and run accident. So can you still recover a settlement for injuries caused by a hit and run? This is one of the more complicated accident questions that a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer will come across because it depends on your insurance policy.
Do you have uninsured motorist coverage?
Since you do not know the identity of a hit and run driver, a distinct difference in recovering compensation is that you must negotiate a settlement with your own insurance company. However, this only works if you have uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage. It is also important that your UM coverage has limits high enough losses.
Under California law, auto insurance companies must offer uninsured motorist coverage with every liability policy but drivers are able to opt out. UM coverage provides payment for bodily injury caused by uninsured drivers, and this includes those who are identified in a hit and run. Since roughly 15% of drivers in the state are uninsured, opting out of this coverage is a dangerous thing to do. If you were one of the drivers who opted out of UM coverage, you may need to bear the financial burden of a hit and run accident all on your own.
Physical contact is required to make a hit and run claim in California
California court cases are clear – accidents caused by so-called “phantom drivers” are not covered by uninsured motorist coverage. A phantom driver is one who sets an accident in motion without physical contact. This might be, for example, a driver who cuts into a lane unexpectedly, causing another driver to swerve out to avoid hitting the vehicle and instead hitting a barrier, other property, or a ditch.
The purpose of denying UM claims for phantom drivers is to prevent fraud. It would be too easy for a driver to cause damage to his or her own car in order to file a claim and then claim it was a phantom driver. Therefore, it is important to avoid your accident being classified as a phantom driver – being able to establish even that debris from the offending vehicle struck yours can be enough to meet the physical contact requirement. If you have the opportunity to obtain even a partial license plate number and description of the vehicle, it may provide police with enough information to track down the car and allow you to obtain full compensation from the at-fault driver.
How to settle a hit and run claim
In addition to the physical contact requirement, a driver needs to report the accident to the policy within 24 hours of the accident and report the claim to his or her insurance company within 30 days of the accident. If you have missed the deadlines, file the necessary information as quickly as possible and speak with a Los Angeles car accident lawyer. It may still be possible to file a successful claim but be prepared for a dispute – you may need to prove to the insurance company that it was not prejudiced by the delay.
If you are negotiating a settlement with your own insurance company, you may expect an easier process than if dealing with another driver’s carrier. It can be true that your carrier has some interest in keeping you happy as a customer, but the more realistic situation is that it will want to pay as little as possible on the claim. It is important to be prepared to present a strong case and anticipate an adversarial process. Having a personal injury attorney by your side can greatly increase your likelihood of obtaining full and fair compensation.
Where to turn after a hit and run in Southern California
The questions from the police and insurance adjusters that follow a hit and run accident can be dizzying. Choose to go through the process with a knowledgeable and experienced advocate by your side. The personal injury lawyers at Ellis Law will work to protect your rights and fight for full compensation.
Ellis Law is committed to protecting the rights of those injured because of someone else’s actions. We offer convenient locations in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California. All consultations are free and confidential, and we never charge a fee up front; you do not pay us unless we win compensation for you.