Hit and Run Accidents: Dealing with the Aftermath
You might know the unfortunate shock of being in an accident where the other party hits you, then flees the scene. Confusion clouds your mind over their taking off, possibly never to be seen again. How could they do that? And, of course, in the understandable stress of the accident, you don’t get their license plate number.
Hit-and-runs are illegal—period. South Carolina’s Code of Laws require drivers involved in a crash to stop at the scene of the accident or stop as close to it as possible. The failure to stop after an accident could result in a felony or a misdemeanor charge, depending upon whether or not people were injured or killed.
Because of the nature of hit-and-runs, it is nearly impossible to say how many car accidents in the U.S. involve them, so estimates are wildly uncertain. However, many hit-and-runs are cars striking pedestrians; about one in five (19 percent) of pedestrian fatalities are hit-and-run, and 60 percent of all hit-and-run deaths involve pedestrians. It is clear is that hit-and-runs are trending upward, while traffic deaths overall are falling. From 2009 to 2011 nationwide, the last years for which the data are complete, hit-and-run fatalities rose over 13 percent.
Focus on South Carolina
Despite laws that are intended to make sure drivers don’t cause a crash and then drive away, hit-and-run accidents happen frequently in South Carolina. The SC Highway Patrol has open hit-and-run cases that go back as far as 2012. One recent case in which the alleged perpetrator has been named is an Aiken County hit-and-run involving a 34-year-old who was arrested for leaving the scene of an accident that left a 15-year-old pedestrian dead in January, 2016.
In an especially problematic case, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) ordered a South Carolina-licensed truck driver not to operate any commercial motor vehicles because of his involvement in a February 2016 fatal crash on I-77 in Chester County. Driver Stevie Wolfe Breland was declared to be a hazard to public safety.
Why Do Hit-and-Run Accidents Occur?
Hit-and-run accidents can happen for many reasons, including the unwillingness of a driver who causes a crash to take responsibility for his or her actions. However, there are certain situations where a driver is more likely to leave the scene of an accident. These situations include:
- When the driver was drunk or under the influence of drugs
- When the driver was driving without a license or driving with a suspended license
- When the driver did not have the required minimum auto insurance coverage
- When the driver had a criminal record, was in the United States illegally, or had some other reason for being reluctant to encounter law enforcement
- When the driver was unaware that he or she had hit a person. This is most common in pedestrian crashes on a dark night or a deserted road, where the driver might believe he hit an animal or an object, and not a human being.
Except for the last point, the common theme is the desire to evade responsibility for one’s actions. Regardless of the reason, a hit-and-run driver in South Carolina is breaking the law.
What Do I Do After a Hit-and-Run Crash?
By following some basic steps after a hit-and-run accident, you may be able to avoid getting stuck with the financial burden of this type of accident.
If you are the victim of a hit-and-run crash, it is important to contact law enforcement right away so they can begin the process of investigating the crash. If there were any witnesses to the accident, you should get their names and contact information and find out if they saw what happened or got any information about the driver who caused the crash. If you can obtain the license plate number of the person who caused the crash, or at least a detailed description of that person and the vehicle, this can go a long way toward helping the police find the hit-and-run driver.
The best case scenario would be if law enforcement could find the driver who hit you. Even if this occurs, however, there is no guarantee that the driver would actually be able to pay your bills. In many cases, the person who hit and ran does not have any insurance or assets. This means that even if the person is found and held responsible, you still might not be able to recover any compensation because there might be no money to compensate you.
Because of the problems with trying to hold the other driver responsible after a hit-and-run, a better solution might involve making a claim with your own insurer.
Making a Claim on Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage after a Hit-and-Run Wreck
In South Carolina, drivers must purchase uninsured motorist (UM) coverage as a part of their auto policy. UM coverage can pay out if you are involved in an accident with an at-fault driver who lacks insurance.
If you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident, your UM coverage could come into play even if you do not know who hit you. This means you could receive compensation from your own insurer, who would pay the damages that the hit-and-run driver should have covered. The damages available are based on the losses you suffered. It is possible to collect compensation up to the limits of your policy, depending upon how seriously you were hurt and the extent of the losses you endured.
When it comes to dealing with your insurance company, keep these two points in mind:
- Report the hit-and-run accident to your insurance company immediately, because you will want to begin the process of collecting reimbursement for medical bills and other expenses as soon as possible.
- Even if you are speaking with your own insurance company, do not provide a recorded statement or sign anything until you talk with a lawyer.
While UM coverage is supposed to ensure that you get the full compensation that you deserve, insurance companies often fail to do what they are supposed to do. Your insurance company might try to lowball you or get you to agree to a settlement that doesn’t quite cover the damages you suffered or provide you with the full compensation you deserve. When in doubt, pursue legal advice.