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What Happens When a Hit and Run Driver Is Caught?

While serious hit-and-runs are relatively rare occurrences on the nation’s roads, unfortunately, most perpetrators rarely get caught or prosecuted, thus leaving the victims very little wiggle room in recovering compensation for their losses. But if the hit-and-run author does get caught, there are several ways to bring them to justice.

What Is a Hit and Run?

A hit-and-run is a traffic accident in which the at-fault drivers decides to flee the scene to escape the legal and financial consequences.

In most states, hit-and-runs are considered misdemeanors, regardless if the decision to drive off of the scene was taken in a split second or if the at-fault driver was intoxicated at the moment of the incident.

Hit-and-runs do not imply only hitting another vehicle and fleeing. They may involve striking a pedestrian, cyclist, or another type of property too. If the victim was seriously injured or killed and you fled the scene, the police may charge you with a felony.

Hit-and-run collisions can be seen as a public safety hazard since failure to properly report the incident or assist the injured person immediately after the crash can make their injuries worse or even put their life at risk.

Hit and Runs in the U.S.A.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a hit-and-run collision happens in the United States every 43 seconds. In 2016, there were around 737,000 hit-and-runs, with 1,980 incidents resulting in the death of the victim(s). Of those cases, just 12% were solved, which means that the fleeing driver had been caught. What’s more, charges were filed in a little over 60% of cases.

The chief reason why so few cases get solved is the police’s inability to catch the hit-and-run drivers. Usually, police officers need at least an eyewitness and a license plate to identify the driver. Unfortunately, in 99% of cases, security cameras are unable to capture the license plate.

Another reason lies with the victims who would rather avoid the criminal court as long as they manage to get their vehicle repaired. In addition, eyewitnesses are not enticed to help the police apprehend the hit-and-runners. That’s why, several police departments have recently rolled out reward programs in a bid to encourage witnesses to be more cooperative in hit-and-run accidents. Rewards range from $1,000 for a correctly identified driver when property damage was involved to $25,000 – $50,000 when someone was killed.

What Happens When the Driver Gets Caught?

If the hit and run driver remains unknown, the victim’s claim with their insurance carrier might be denied, depending on the state of residence, even if they have uninsured motorist property damage (UMPB) coverage or collision coverage. That means the victim will have to use out-of-pocket cash to repair their vehicle.

If the insurance company is uncooperative, the victim’s best bet is to wait for the police to apprehend the at-fault driver. Even if the liable party is uninsured, the victim may get their car repaired under either UMPB coverage or collision coverage.

Also, if the hit-and-run driver is found, you can sue them for compensation for any injuries and damages, including lost wages, in a personal injury lawsuit.

What’s more, you can sue the defendant for punitive damages which are awarded on top of compensatory damages. Punitive damages are designed as a way to punish the wrong doer for his or her recklessness or intentional behavior.

Fleeing the scene is an intentional act, which is why hit-and-runs are considered criminal offenses. Further, if the driver was intoxicated or could have prevented the accident but chose not to, the punitive damages can be greater.

If you want to sue the driver for damages, know that time is ticking. In some states, there’s a very short time limit to sue the reckless driver for your personal injuries. Additionally, when involved in a hit-and-run accident immediately reporting it is the best strategy to help the police quickly identify the driver, even though, for the victim, the time limit for reporting such incidents is equal to the statute of limitations for car accidents, which can be several years in most states.

In Conclusion

Most hit-and-run drivers rarely get caught, which means that the person whose car was hit has very limited options when it comes to recovering compensation for any damages. But when the liable driver does get caught and prosecuted, the victim can sue them for both compensatory damages and punitive damages to get compensation and make up for the pain and suffering they experienced.

Image credit: Rosemary Ketchum on Pexels