One of the worst things than being involved in a car accident is getting in a motor vehicle accident and the liable driver driving off before you can get their information. In Los Angeles, it is unlawful to leave the accident scene before taking the necessary steps following an accident. Fortunately, all is not lost. You can contact an experienced attorney like The LA Personal Injury Law Firm. We can assist you in investigating your case and ensuring you recover the compensation you deserve.
Hit and Run Statistics in California
According to a report released by AAA (American Automobile Association) Foundation for Traffic Safety, approximately one hit and run car accident occurs in the United States every minute. That includes crashes involving parked vehicles or property, a fender bender, and severe vehicle accidents involving death or severe injuries.
Additionally, this led to 2,049 fatalities in 2016 alone. This is the highest death rate reported and a sixty percent increase since 2009.
Also, an article published in the Los Angeles Times noted a similar trend in Los Angeles where those mostly killed in the hit and run crashes are drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. About 134 people died in 2017 in Los Angeles alone. This was the most recorded in more than fifteen years and almost twice the number of fatalities in 2015.
Reasons Why Motorists Flee After Causing an Accident
It's hard to imagine that a person would leave the scene of a car accident they caused, especially when it's likely that the victim is severely hurt. Well, that's what some negligent motorists do even if they will face charges if arrested. Common reasons why motorists make this decision include:
- The motorist was drunk and was afraid of being charged with driving under the influence,
- The driver didn't have the car liability insurance required by the law,
- The motorist did not have permission to operate the car or had stolen it,
- The motorist had several traffic tickets and was afraid of getting another one,
- The driver had a pending warrant of arrest, and
- The driver was worried that their coverage rates would go up
Common Injuries Sustained in Hit and Run Accidents
The various injuries resulting from a hit and run accident vary depending on the circumstances of the collision. While some injuries heal within a few days without any medical attention, others are serious and could lead to physical disability.
Here are the common injuries caused by motor vehicle accident:
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries involve damage to your body's connective tissues like tendons, ligaments, and muscles. A perfect example of a soft tissue injury is whiplash to your upper back and neck. In this injury, the ligaments and muscles are stretched as a result of sudden movement impacted on the neck and head during the accident.
A vehicle's unexpected change of direction or stop usually causes the heads of those in the car to experience unnatural and sudden movement. This could result in head injuries. Impact with a steering wheel or side window can result in bruising or scrapes to your head or lacerations. Severe accident impacts can lead to close head injury where the tissues and fluid in the skull are damaged. A serious impact can result in brain damage, while a less serious closed head injury often causes concussions.
Another common type of car accident injury is chest injuries. Typically, these injuries are contusions, bruises, internal injuries, and broken ribs. Usually, drivers suffer chest injuries because of their position when driving, which permits less movement before the chest collides with the steering wheel.
Legs and Arm Injuries
The same impact that unexpectedly throws your head in a car accident acts the same way on legs and arms. Depending on the collision's nature, injuries to legs and arms could be scrapes, bruises, sprains, or breaks.
What to Do After a Hit and Run Motor Vehicle Accident
Fleeing an accident scene is unlawful, and defendants could be convicted of a California felony should any victim sustain injuries, even if it's minor. Despite these stringent laws, hit and run car accidents still occur and could render victims not capable of getting compensated for losses incurred.
The section below discusses what to do after the accident. These steps make the difference between how satisfactory the settlement is.
- Look at the Other Vehicle Attentively as it Leaves the Accident Scene
More often than not, hit and run car accident victims have little time to gather details of the other vehicle before it's out of the view. Consequently, you should do your best to observe the car so that you can describe it to the law enforcement agency.
Make sure you take notes of details like:
- The vehicle's color, license plate number, model, and make,
- Any distinguishing characteristic on the vehicle like damage resulting from the accident,
- Physical identifying features of the motorists such as possible age, race, and gender, and
- The direction the car heads to
To avoid forgetting anything, make sure you write down what you can recall on a piece of paper.
- Search for Witnesses
The next step should be looking for witnesses; in any car accident, witnesses have a better view of the crash than the alleged victims. If there are any restaurants or businesses around, ask customers and employers what they saw.
Get the names and contact details of all witnesses you talk to so that you can reach them for clarification in the future or witnesses in your personal injury claim.
- Take Photographs
Probably, the immediate aftermath of a car accident while waiting for the law enforcement agency to arrive is wondering the following:
- How much the accident will cost you
- How you will get to work the following day, or
- How long your injuries will take to recover
Well, all these are valid worries, but you need answers to them. One of the ways to get answers is by capturing photos if you have a smartphone with you and not severely injured.
A picture can tell more about what occurred in an accident more than words. It can even contradict the words of the witnesses. Here are the reasons why it is essential to take photos:
Photos Can Give Evidence Regarding Liability
The position of the vehicles after the crash, skid marks, shot of stop signs, and point of impact can function as proof of liability. To show how the accident occurred, be sure to capture the pictures from different angles.
Photos Show Proof of Your Injuries
Photos can assist prove that the injury you have is a result of the accident. They will also refute any insurance provider claims that the injury was pre-existing.
Photos Will Help You Recall Crucial Factors
Additionally, capturing pictures can assist you in remembering the things you can forget in the confusion that comes with a hit and run car accident. For instance, having a picture of the other motorist's license plate number can be helpful when bringing a personal injury claim.
- Call Law Enforcement
When the police reach the accident scene, tell the police that you‘re a victim of a hit and run car accident, and have details of the driver, vehicle, or both. These details will help the police to track down the car and its driver.
Moreover, the investigating officer will include your side of the story in their accident report. The police report will be crucial evidence in your claim. This is because it not only acts as a record of what happened but also assists in proving who was responsible for the accident.
- Seek Medical Attention
A car accident injury can be more severe than you first thought. Consequently, you ought to seek immediate medical attention even when you don't feel pain right away.
Your doctor will offer the medical treatment you require as well as document your injuries in medical records. Just like a police report, medical records assist in demonstrating how severe your injuries are.
Before you leave the health care facility, remember to get copies of the medical records. They will be instrumental when filing your claim.
- Hire an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
A competent personal injury lawyer will advise you of all the available legal options following the type of car accident in question, including bringing an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit.
The attorney will also handle all aspects of your claim from investigating to negotiating compensation. Different from the insurance adjuster, your lawyer has your best interests at heart throughout the claim.
Filing an Insurance Personal Injury Claim
It is wise to bring an insurance claim immediately. California has a statute of limitations for filing personal injury claims, and missing the deadline could lead to a lost chance to get the compensation you are entitled to.
Nonetheless, with hit and run car accident, it is overwhelming to know the right insurer to bring your claim with. The following factors provide the answer:
If Law Enforcement Found the Accountable Motorist
If the investigating police find the motorist, you can get compensation from them. California uses pure comparative negligence rule, and responsible parties will be liable for the percentage of the damages they caused.
In the event law enforcement cannot find the motorist, your insurer can award you the damages.
If the Other Motorist has Insurance
If the motorist is apprehended and has enough insurance cover, you can seek compensation for the medical bills, lost income from the at-fault party's insurer.
Regrettably, hit and run motorists flee the accident scene since they don't have the state-mandated vehicle insurance. In that case, you will not be in a position to recover compensation from the driver.
Your Insurance Company has a Hit and Run Coverage
If the driver cannot be located or does not have insurance, the only option you have is filing a personal injury claim with your insurer. The following are ways you can get compensation after a crash:
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)
All insurance firms in Los Angeles should encourage motorists to have uninsured and underinsured coverage. UIM was designed to protect victims involved in a collision with an uninsured motorist. You can also use it if a hit and run motorist injures you. The coverage extends even when you are not operating your car. In other words, cyclists and pedestrians can use it.
As previously mentioned, the law doesn't require you to have uninsured motorist coverage, but your insurer should provide the policy to you. However, about 1/4 of motorists in California aren't insured. Therefore, it is essential to carry the insurance in question to protect yourself should you get involved in a hit and run car accident.
It is worth noting that UIM compensates for injuries which are caused by a hit and run motor vehicle accident if the following conditions are satisfied:
- There was physical contact between your car and the car which fled from the scene of the crash,
- You filed your claim with your insurer within thirty days from the date of the accident, and
- You reported the accident to law enforcement authority with twenty-four hours from the time of the car accident
- Collision Coverage
You are supposed to buy the minimum amount of motor vehicle insurance if you are a car owner. This takes in at least five thousand dollars in collision coverage that pays for damage to your car after a crash irrespective of fault. This insurance under your policy should also assist in compensation. Nevertheless, you need to pay a deductible so that the settlements can be made.
- Phantom Drivers
Phantom drivers can also cause accidents. A phantom driver could be a car that swerves by you or crosses into a lane, making you swerve out of the way, causing a motor vehicle accident. You could end up hitting things such as a guardrail or street sign, or your car may wind up in a ditch or rollover. Usually, a phantom driver doesn't wait following this kind of accident, and you might never know their identity.
According to the law, a phantom driver cannot be deemed as a hit and run motorist as far as uninsured motorist coverage is concerned. This is because physical contact is needed for the insurance company to compensate for the hit and run accident.
In the event the motorist is located, they will still be held accountable for your injury.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for filing a claim in California is two (2) years from the car accident's date. That means take time to bring the claim could prevent you from being awarded the compensation you are entitled to.
What Happens if the Driver Cannot Be Located
It can take the law enforcers more than two years to locate the driver who caused the accident. You cannot be denied compensation because the driver has evaded the police for that long.
Instead, the deadline will be tolled until the driver is found.
The Motorist is Serving Time
Leaving the accident scene is an offense, and if convicted, the driver may serve time. The duration of the sentence depends on the damage the driver caused and previous criminal record.
In this case, the deadline will be paused until the motorist is released from jail or for two (2) years, whichever comes first. For instance, if the motorist is sentenced for three years, the statute of limitations will be paused for a year.
Be sure to protect your right to bring a personal injury claim by hiring a skilled lawyer immediately after the hit and run car accident. The attorney will ensure the case is brought within the appropriate deadline.
Can a Criminal Case have an Impact on your Claim?
You might think that everything will run smoothly after the hit and run motorist is found. Well, that is not always the case. The driver could be detained and face charges for the accident. This could affect your injury claim in the following ways:
It is essential to understand that civil and criminal cases are different. It's possible to file your claim while the hit and run motorist's criminal case is proceeding.
But, the driver's lawyer could request to pause the civil proceedings until the criminal case is closed. In layman's language, your claim will be postponed until the prosecution is over. This will extend the time you have to wait to be awarded your compensation.
Can the Result of the Criminal Case Affect Your Civil Case?
Not a must. Remember, the two types of cases are different. You are not assured of a successful civil case because the hit and run motorist is found guilty of the offense. Likewise, simply because the driver is not convicted does not mean you will not be in a position to recover compensation in the civil case.
It is crucial to work with an experienced lawyer if the motorist is found guilty. A competent lawyer knows how to frame arguments and use the criminal proceeding in your favor by maximizing your financial recovery and assisting your case. This is because the judge could be persuaded to believe you if the driver is convicted. Also, the motorist could be ready to offer a fair settlement to prevent enhanced penalties.
What are the Different Damages that are Awarded?
In a personal injury claim, damages are tailored to compensate you for what you have lost as a result of the accident. In other words, damages are designed to make you whole again. This is achieved by putting a dollar value on the accident's consequences. While some damages can be quantified easily, others are hard to place a monetary value. Below are different damages which are commonly awarded in personal injury lawsuit in California:
- Medical Expenses
Almost all personal injury claims include medical expenses linked with the car accident. It includes compensation for treatment already received as well as the estimated medical bills you will require in the future due to the crash.
- Lost Income
You could receive compensation for the effects the hit and run accident has on your wages and salary. It involves both the income you have already lost and the income you would have been in a position to make in the future, were it not for the car accident.
- Property Loss
You may also be entitled to compensation for your vehicle, clothes, and other assets damaged by the accident. Additionally, you could receive reimbursement for repair or payment for the damaged asset's market value.
- Pain and Suffering
Additionally, you have a right to be compensated for the pain and severe discomfort you underwent at the time of the car accident and its aftermath.
- Emotional Distress
Plaintiffs in California are also entitled to be compensated for the psychological effect of the hit and run accident. It includes anxiety, loss of sleep, and fear.
- Loss of Enjoyment
You could also be awarded this type of damages if your injuries are preventing you from engaging in and enjoying daily pursuits or recreational activities like exercise and hobbies.
- Loss of Consortium
Typically, loss of consortium means the effect the accident has on the victim's relationship with their spouse (loss of a sexual relationship or loss of companionship). It could also include the impact on a parent-child relationship.
- Punitive Damages
You may also be awarded punitive damages on top of compensatory damages if the hit and run driver's conduct is considered outrageously careless or egregious. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are meant to punish the hit and run motorist for their conduct.
Find An Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Being a victim of a hit and run accident in Los Angeles is complicated and comes with several questions. Why would the motorist leave the accident scene? How did the accident happen? How will you deal with the costs of injury and repairs? These questions should not hinder your recovery. Therefore, you need to consult a skilled personal injury attorney who will advise you on the available legal options when the driver is not located. The proficient legal team at The LA Personal Injury Law Firm can negotiate with your insurer or file a lawsuit if the insurer fails to offer you a fair settlement. Call us today at 310-935-0089 for more information.