Hit and Run Car Accidents: Who’s Liable for Damages?

Hit and Run Car Accidents: Who’s Liable for Damages?

Imagine a scenario where you’re driving along, following all traffic rules, and suddenly, your vehicle is struck by another car. The impact is jarring, and you’re left in a state of shock. As you gather your senses, you realize the other driver has fled the scene, leaving you to deal with the aftermath alone. This is a hit-and-run accident, a situation that can leave victims feeling helpless and uncertain about their next steps.

Hit-and-run accidents are a serious problem on our roads, causing significant physical, emotional, and financial distress to those involved. In this comprehensive article, we’ll delve into the complex issue of hit-and-run collisions, exploring the legal implications, compensation options, and the human cost of these incidents.

Hit-and-run accidents can occur in various scenarios, including collisions involving pedestrians, bicyclists, or other vehicles. These incidents are particularly concerning because the fleeing driver fails to render aid or provide necessary information, leaving victims to deal with the consequences alone.

The impact of hit-and-run accidents extends far beyond the initial collision. Victims may suffer from physical injuries, emotional trauma, and financial burdens due to medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. Additionally, these incidents can strain law enforcement resources and contribute to a sense of insecurity within communities.

Hit and Run Car Accidents: Who's Liable for Damages?

Table of Contents

What Is a Hit and Run Accident?

A hit-and-run accident is a serious criminal offense that occurs when a driver involved in a collision fails to stop at the scene of the accident. This type of behavior is not only illegal but also unethical and can have severe consequences for all parties involved.

When a driver leaves the scene of an accident without stopping to render aid or provide necessary information, they are essentially abandoning their legal responsibilities as a driver. In most jurisdictions, it is required by law for drivers to stop at the scene of an accident, exchange contact and insurance information with the other party, and assist anyone who may be injured.

Failure to do so can result in criminal charges being filed against the hit-and-run driver. The severity of the legal consequences will depend on the specific circumstances of the accident, such as the extent of property damage, injuries sustained, and whether the driver has a prior record of similar offenses.

In addition to facing criminal charges, hit-and-run drivers may also be held civilly liable for any damages or injuries caused by the accident. This can result in the driver having to pay compensation to the victims for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related costs.

Types of Hit and Run Accidents

Hit-and-run accidents can involve various scenarios, including:

Vehicle-to-Vehicle Collisions

This type of hit-and-run occurs when a driver strikes another vehicle and flees the scene without exchanging information or rendering assistance.

Pedestrian or Bicyclist Collisions

Pedestrians and bicyclists are particularly vulnerable in hit-and-run accidents, as they often suffer more severe injuries due to the lack of protection from a vehicle’s exterior.

Collisions with Parked or Unattended Vehicles

Even if no one is present in the other vehicle, it is still considered a hit-and-run offense if the driver fails to leave their contact information or report the incident.

The Human Cost of Hit-and-Run Accidents

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, hit-and-run crashes in the United States result in approximately 2,000 deaths annually. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2021, there were 2,872 fatalities involving hit-and-run drivers, accounting for nearly 20% of all pedestrian fatalities.

Hit-and-run accidents can have devastating consequences, often resulting in fatalities or severe injuries. Pedestrians and bicyclists are particularly vulnerable, as they lack the protection of a vehicle’s exterior. These incidents can leave victims with long-lasting physical and emotional trauma, significantly impacting their quality of life.

What To Do If You’ve Been in a Hit-and-Run Collision

If you find yourself the victim of a hit-and-run accident, it’s crucial to take the appropriate steps to ensure your safety, gather evidence, and protect your legal rights.

Immediate Steps After a Hit-and-Run Accident

  1. Check for Injuries: First and foremost, assess yourself and any passengers for injuries. If anyone is severely injured, call emergency services immediately.
  1. Call the Police: Even if the accident seems minor, it’s essential to report the hit-and-run to the police. Provide them with as many details as possible about the fleeing vehicle and driver.
  1. Gather Information: If it’s safe to do so, try to collect as much information as possible about the other vehicle, such as its make, model, color, license plate number, and any distinguishing features or damage.
  1. Look for Witnesses: If there were any witnesses to the accident, try to obtain their contact information and ask them to remain at the scene until the police arrive.
  1. Document the Scene: Take photos or videos of the accident scene, including the damage to your vehicle, any debris on the road, and the surrounding area. This evidence can be invaluable in helping authorities locate the fleeing driver.

Gathering Information at the Scene of the Collision

Gathering information at the scene of a hit-and-run accident is crucial for the investigation and potential compensation claims. Here are some important details to document:

  • Vehicle Description: Make note of the make, model, color, and any distinguishing features or damage to the fleeing vehicle.
  • License Plate Information: If possible, try to capture the license plate number or at least a partial plate number.
  • Driver Description: If you were able to see the driver, note any details about their appearance, such as gender, approximate age, hair color, or clothing.
  • Witness Information: Obtain contact information from any witnesses who may have seen the accident or the fleeing vehicle.
  • Surveillance Cameras: Look for nearby businesses or residences that may have security cameras that could have captured the incident.

Safety Measures at the Accident Scene

While gathering information is important, your safety should always be the top priority. Follow these safety measures:

  • Move to a Safe Location: If the accident occurred on a busy road or highway, move your vehicle to a safe location, such as a shoulder or nearby parking lot, if possible.
  • Activate Hazard Lights: Turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers and increase visibility.
  • Call for Emergency Assistance: If anyone is injured, call emergency services immediately.

After You’ve Left the Scene

Even after leaving the scene of the hit-and-run accident, there are still important steps to take to protect your rights and pursue compensation.

Medical Care After the Accident

Seek medical attention, even if you don’t feel injured. Some injuries, such as whiplash or internal bleeding, may not be immediately apparent. Obtaining medical documentation is crucial for any future insurance claims or legal action.

Contacting Insurance Companies and Witnesses

Notify your insurance company about the hit-and-run accident as soon as possible. Provide them with all the details you have, including any witness information or evidence you gathered at the scene.

Additionally, follow up with any witnesses you spoke to at the scene and request written statements detailing what they saw. These statements can be valuable evidence in your case.

Follow-Up with Law Enforcement

Stay in contact with the law enforcement agency investigating the hit-and-run. Provide them with any new information or evidence you may have obtained, such as witness statements or surveillance footage. Cooperate fully with their investigation, as this can increase the chances of identifying and apprehending the fleeing driver.

Do I Have To Get Involved If I Witness a Hit-and-Run?

Legal Obligations for Bystanders

In most jurisdictions, bystanders are not legally obligated to get involved in a hit-and-run accident. However, providing information to the authorities can be crucial in helping to identify the fleeing driver and bring them to justice.

Providing Information as a Witness

If you witness a hit-and-run accident, consider providing a statement to the police or victim with any information you have about the incident, such as the fleeing vehicle’s description, license plate number, or the driver’s appearance.

Consequences of Ignoring Subpoenas

While bystanders are not legally required to get involved, if their information is deemed relevant to the investigation, they may be subpoenaed to testify or provide evidence. Ignoring a subpoena can result in legal consequences, including fines or even potential imprisonment for contempt of court.

Compensation for Your Hit-and-Run Accident

If you’ve been the victim of a hit-and-run accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages and injuries. However, the process can be complex, and the options available to you may depend on various factors.

Options for Recovery Without Identifying the Driver

Even if the driver who hit you cannot be identified, you may still have options for recovering compensation:

  • Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM): If you have UIM coverage as part of your auto insurance policy, you may be able to file a claim for your injuries and damages caused by the hit-and-run driver.
  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Coverage: Depending on your state’s laws, you may be able to file a claim under your PIP coverage for medical expenses and lost wages.
  • Health Insurance: Your health insurance may cover medical expenses related to the hit-and-run accident.

Filing Claims Against the Hit-and-Run Driver

If the driver who hit you is identified and located, you may be able to file an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit against them. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Identifying the Driver: Work with law enforcement and your insurance company to try to identify the hit-and-run driver. This may involve using witness statements, surveillance footage, or other investigative techniques.
  • Filing an Insurance Claim: If the driver is identified and has insurance coverage, you can file a claim with their insurance company for your damages and injuries.
  • Personal Injury Lawsuit: If the driver is located but does not have insurance or their coverage is insufficient, you may consider filing a personal injury lawsuit against them to seek compensation.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage for Hit and Run Accidents

If the hit-and-run driver cannot be identified or does not have insurance, your uninsured motorist coverage (UM) can be crucial in helping you recover financially. Here’s how it works:

  • Coverage Under UM Policy: UM coverage typically applies when you are involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, including hit-and-run situations.
  • Steps to Utilize UM Coverage: To utilize your UM coverage, you will need to notify your insurance company about the hit-and-run accident, provide any documentation they request, and cooperate with their investigation.

Other Claims Under Your Own Auto or Health Insurance

In addition to uninsured motorist coverage, there may be other types of insurance coverage that can help you after a hit-and-run accident. Understanding these options can be essential for securing compensation.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Coverage

PIP coverage is a type of insurance that pays for medical expenses and lost wages for you and your passengers, regardless of who was at fault in the accident. It can be particularly useful in hit-and-run cases where the at-fault driver is unknown.

Medical Payments Coverage

Medical payments coverage, also known as MedPay, can help cover medical expenses resulting from a hit-and-run accident, such as ambulance fees, hospital bills, and doctor’s visits. This coverage is typically available regardless of who was at fault.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage helps pay for repairs to your vehicle after a hit-and-run accident, regardless of who was responsible for the collision. It can be valuable in getting your vehicle back on the road quickly.

Health Insurance Coverage

Your health insurance can also play a role in covering medical expenses related to a hit-and-run accident. Be sure to inform your health insurance provider about the accident to ensure proper billing and coverage.

Claim Against Your State Crime Victim Compensation Board

In some cases, victims of hit-and-run accidents may be eligible for compensation from their state’s crime victim compensation board. These boards provide financial assistance to victims of violent crimes, which may include hit-and-run accidents.

Assistance Available from Crime Victim Compensation Boards

Crime victim compensation boards may offer financial support for various expenses, such as medical bills, counseling services, lost wages, and funeral costs. The specific benefits available vary by state.

Eligibility Criteria and Application Process

To apply for compensation from a crime victim compensation board, you will need to meet certain eligibility criteria, such as reporting the hit-and-run accident to law enforcement and cooperating with the investigation. The application process typically involves submitting documentation of your expenses and losses.

Paying Out of Pocket

If you are unable to recover compensation through insurance claims, uninsured motorist coverage, or other means, you may find yourself facing out-of-pocket expenses. In such situations, exploring alternative sources of financial assistance can be helpful.

Alternatives for Financial Assistance

  • Victim Assistance Programs: Some organizations and nonprofits provide support and financial assistance to victims of crimes, including hit-and-run accidents.
  • Crowdfunding: Online fundraising platforms can help you raise money to cover expenses related to the accident.
  • Legal Aid: Consider seeking assistance from legal aid organizations that provide free or low-cost legal services to individuals in need.

Resources for Victims of Hit-and-Run Accidents

There are resources available to help hit-and-run accident victims navigate the aftermath of the incident, including legal assistance, support groups, and advocacy organizations. Seeking out these resources can provide valuable support during a challenging time.

Criminal Penalties for Leaving the Scene of an Accident

Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious offense that can result in criminal charges and significant penalties. Understanding the potential consequences can underscore the importance of staying at the scene and taking responsibility for your actions.

Classification of Hit-and-Run Offenses

Hit-and-run offenses are typically classified based on the severity of the accident and whether there were injuries or fatalities involved. Penalties may vary depending on the circumstances of the case.

Range of Punishments for Hit-and-Run Crimes

Penalties for hit-and-run offenses can range from fines and license suspension to imprisonment, especially in cases involving injuries or deaths. Repeat offenders or those with prior criminal records may face harsher punishments.

Get a Lawyer to Help Recover Your Losses

Navigating the legal complexities of a hit-and-run accident case can be challenging, especially when seeking compensation for your losses. Hiring a car accident lawyer can provide valuable support and expertise throughout the process.

Benefits of Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer

A car accident lawyer can help you understand your rights, negotiate with insurance companies, gather evidence to support your claim, and represent you in court if necessary. Their knowledge and experience can significantly increase your chances of recovering fair compensation.

Contingency Fee Basis for Legal Representation

Many car accident lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if you receive a settlement or court award. This fee structure can make legal representation more accessible and affordable for hit-and-run accident victims.


It’s important to keep detailed records of all communication, expenses, and interactions related to your hit-and-run accident case. These notes can serve as valuable evidence and documentation if you need to pursue legal action or insurance claims.

Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid making these common mistakes after a hit-and-run accident:

  • Not Reporting the Accident: Failing to report the accident to law enforcement and your insurance company can jeopardize your ability to recover compensation.
  • Neglecting Medical Care: Delaying or refusing medical treatment can worsen injuries and complicate insurance claims.
  • Not Seeking Legal Advice: Consulting with a car accident lawyer can help you understand your rights and options for pursuing compensation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I still file an insurance claim if the hit-and-run driver is never found?
    • Yes, you can typically file a claim under your uninsured motorist coverage or other applicable insurance policies.
  1. What should I do if I suspect the other driver is uninsured or underinsured?
    • Contact your insurance company and discuss your options for filing a claim under your own policy’s uninsured motorist coverage.
  1. Is there a time limit for filing a hit-and-run accident claim?
    • Time limits, known as statutes of limitations, vary by state and type of claim. It’s best to consult with a car accident lawyer to understand your specific deadlines.


Being involved in a hit-and-run accident can be a traumatic and confusing experience. However, understanding the steps to take after such an incident, including gathering information at the scene, seeking medical care, and exploring compensation options, can help you protect your rights and recover your losses. By following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can navigate the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident with greater confidence and clarity. Remember, seeking legal advice and support can be instrumental in ensuring that you receive the compensation you deserve.