It is one thing to have to deal with a car accident, no matter how big or how small. The expected interaction usually includes exchanging insurance information and contact information and may even involve the police. From there, the two parties go their separate ways and continue to deal with the damages. Eventually, and hopefully, the matter gets resolved, the damages get repaired and the parties can go back to being motorists on the road. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. According to an article on injuryclaimcoach.com, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states, "11 out of every 100 traffic accidents are hit and run accidents. Of those 4.3 percent result in fatalities."
A hit and run accident is basically when a motorist crashes into another vehicle, a pedestrian or onto private property but then leaves the scene of the accident without rendering aid or identifying him or herself, or both. Rendering aid refers to the motorist assisting those involved in the accident, calling the police and/or fire rescue if necessary or sharing contact and insurance information with the other motorist. Committing a hit and run can carry quite the penalty, especially since leaving the scene of an accident is illegal in all 50 states. Whether it is deemed a felony or misdemeanor, both are punishable by time in county or state prison and a monetary fine. But when it comes down to it, many motorists who commit a hit and run are not caught or identified. This makes it virtually impossible to hold them accountable for their actions. So, if you are expecting to be compensated in your hit and run accident there are avenues you should exhaust in order to find and identify the guilty party.
The Injury Claim Coach article presents a common problem that most victims of a hit and run accident tend to face. That is the fact that unless your accident results in serious injuries or a fatality, the police file it as low priority. So there will not be much help from the law when it comes down to it. On top of that, just having the license plate number of the vehicle will not help in making an arrest. In theory, without a positive identification, any person could have been driving the vehicle. It needs to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for the person to be convicted.
So what other ways can help in identifying the owner and/or driver of the guilty party? Your best bet will be an eyewitness being able to identify the driver. Someone who witnessed what took place may have a description of the car and driver and even have the license plate number of the vehicle. With all of that information handy, it is unlikely the incident would be filed as low priority. Other than an eyewitness who comes forward of their own accord, you should check anywhere and everywhere around the scene of the accident. There could be someone who witnessed what happened and has details that can be helpful if you just ask for them.
You should also ask businesses in the area if they have cameras that may have recorded the accident in question. Having video evidence can not only help in identifying the guilty party but it also proves the accident actually took place and that you are in fact the victim. If you are able to identify a guilty party then compensation for the hit and run accident can come in many different forms. According to an article on alllaw.com, in a civil injury lawsuit the victim will most likely recover punitive damages which is available when the guilty person intentionally or recklessly caused harm, or acted in an egregious manner.
Punitive damages are "designed to punish and prevent bad conduct by serving as a warning to others." They are based on variables like how much money it takes to effectively punish the guilty party and in accordance with the person's "lack of morality." Punitive damages come in addition to regular damages that a victim is entitled to. These damages are designed to compensate the victim for things like pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses, etc. The person driving the vehicle may also not be the only person you can pursue compensation from. Pending on the circumstances, the owner of the vehicle can also be held liable for the accident in question. This holds true even if the owner was not driving the vehicle when it happened. If the vehicle was is a company car, the owner of the company can be held liable.
How much the owner of the vehicle or the non-driver is liable for falls on a few different variables. One variable could be if the owner let an unlicensed driver use the car. Another could be if the owner let the motorist drive the vehicle after knowing that person was intoxicated or under the influence. A third variable could be the owner knowing that the driver in question had a history of bad driving like reckless driving or speeding violations. In those aforementioned variable situations, the owner letting someone use the car is an act of negligence by itself, leaving them liable for the events that unfolded. The only time the owner would not also be held liable would be if the car was stolen or its use was unauthorized.
As the victim in these cases, compensation can be pursued from the owner as well as the driver. The big question becomes — and is the case with a majority of hit and runs — what happens if the driver is never caught or proven to driving the car that hit you? When it comes down to it, victims usually end up collecting from their own insurance policies following a hit and run accident. There are a handful of states that are considered no-fault states, where injured drivers can make a no-fault claim with their insurance company.
In summary, a victim of a hit and run accident can be compensated either by the guilty party and anyone liable for the vehicle if they are able to prove the driver was operating the vehicle at the time of the incident. If they are unable to prove this then they will not be able to be held accountable and compensation can be pursued through an insurance claim.