What to Do after a Hit-and-Run Accident

Being in any car accident is terrifying, but a hit-and-run can be particularly devastating. When the person who hit you doesn’t stick around, it can leave you confused and uncertain about what to do next. You might also feel robbed of the opportunity to get justice and financial compensation for your injuries.

Here, Dr. Louis Patino — a personal injury attorney in McAllen, Texas — explains what you should do after a hit-and-run accident and your options for getting the compensation you deserve so you can move forward.

What Is a Hit-and-Run Accident?

A hit-and-run occurs when a driver in a collision flees the scene without providing their contact and insurance information or checking if anyone else is injured and needs assistance.

Not only is it morally reprehensible to flee after an accident, but it’s also a criminal offense.

So why do people do it?

Why Drivers Flee after an Accident

There are several reasons a driver might fail to stop and render aid after an accident, including:

  • Fear of criminal consequences: If a driver caused an accident because they were under the influence, do not have a valid license, have an outstanding arrest warrant, or are driving an unregistered or stolen vehicle, they might flee the scene to avoid legal repercussions. This might sound counterintuitive when a hit-and-run can also lead to criminal penalties, but a driver might reason they have a chance of getting away if they flee. 
  • Lack of insurance: Driving without insurance is more common than you might think. Studies report that one in eight drivers on U.S. roads do not have the minimum insurance coverage required by state law. It’s common to exchange insurance details after a crash so that the injured party can file a claim, so if one driver doesn’t have a policy, they might flee. Alternatively, a driver with insurance might leave the scene to avoid higher premiums.
  • Panic and shock: An accident can trigger many emotions, ranging from anger and confusion to panic. The release of adrenaline as part of the body’s natural fight-or-flight response can cause a driver to be impulsive and instinctively flee in self-preservation.

What to Do Immediately after a Hit-and-Run

You can take multiple steps immediately after an accident to support an insurance claim or legal action.

Your priority should always be your health. Check yourself and others for injuries and either stay in your vehicle or move to the side of the road. Then, contact emergency services — even if you think another driver or witness may have already done so.

Document the Scene and Gather Evidence

Once you’ve confirmed everyone is safe, you can document information about the accident and the fleeing driver. Note any details you can remember, such as the license plate, the make, model, and color of the vehicle, and the driver’s description.

However, accidents are traumatic, so you might struggle to remember details or think clearly. Consider speaking to others involved in the accident or who saw what happened, as their insight may fill in any gaps.

Don’t forget to note the time, date, location, and where the vehicle was headed — investigators may be able to source CCTV footage from the surrounding area to track the driver down.

If you wish to file an insurance claim or lawsuit — even if you don’t have the details of the person responsible — you need evidence. Photographs or videos of the scene and your injuries can prove you were hurt in the crash and help investigators reconstruct the accident to identify how the accident happened and who might be liable.

Medical reports can also prove your injuries, so you should see a doctor after your accident — for your health, if nothing else.

Cooperate with Law Enforcement

When law enforcement arrives at the scene, an officer will create a crash report and launch an investigation to find the driver responsible, so share your account of the fleeing vehicle or driver and how the accident happened.

If police apprehend the driver, they may issue a criminal charge. Police typically file misdemeanor charges when a hit-and-run results in property damage only, while drivers who cause injury are subject to felony charges. Hit-and-run laws and penalties vary by state, but both can result in fines and jail time, with felony penalties being more severe. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may also suspend or revoke the driver’s license.

Hire a Personal Injury Attorney

Fleeing an accident scene and failing to render aid or leave contact information is a crime, but you may be entitled to compensation if you sustain injuries in a hit-and-run accident.

A personal injury lawyer can gather evidence and negotiate a fair settlement that covers your losses. It’s often easier to prove a hit-and-run driver is responsible and recover compensation via a lawsuit because of the negligence per se rule. You must typically demonstrate the driver was negligent, which can be challenging. But negligence per se allows you to skip this element if the person responsible violated a law designed to protect public safety. In this case, all you need to do is prove the driver fled the scene — such as through eyewitness testimony and the police report created immediately after the accident — and that the accident caused your injuries.

But what if the police never catch the person responsible?

You might still recover compensation for your injuries even if the police cannot track down the hit-and-run driver. Often, multiple parties are responsible for a crash. For example, photographs of skid marks and a witness statement may indicate that the driver who fled the scene only hit you because they had to swerve to avoid another vehicle that did not yield the right of way. In this case, you could hold the driver who triggered the chain reaction responsible for the crash instead of pursuing the individual who directly hit you and fled

In another scenario, a brake failure or other auto defect might have contributed to the accident, and you may be able to recover compensation from the manufacturer. A personal injury lawyer can explore your legal options.

A hit-and-run accident can be unnerving and complex, but understanding the legal considerations and taking prompt action can help you get the justice and compensation you deserve.