Unfortunately, hit-and-run accidents happen frequently in California. In 2019, the most recent full year with statistics, the California Highway Patrol identified 46,645 hit-and-run accidents across the state.
California law requires drivers to stop, exchange information, and render aid after a car accident. If they fail to do so, the driver commits a hit-and-run. If anyone suffers an injury, the driver could land in jail for up to one year. A judge must sentence the driver to at least 90 days in jail if anyone suffers death or serious injury.
What Can a Lawyer Do After a Hit-and-Run Accident?
California has a fault-based car insurance system. Every car owner must buy liability insurance to register their vehicle. Liability insurance pays accident victims if you cause a car crash. This coverage does not pay for your damages.
After a crash, all accident victims file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurer. To get paid, the victims must prove:
- The accident caused their injuries
- The at-fault driver caused the losses and resulting injuries
- The at-fault driver acted negligently in causing the accident
When you know the identity of the at-fault driver, you can file an insurance claim, or, if the driver lacks insurance, file a lawsuit. But when the driver flees the accident scene, you cannot do either of these.
Since it is illegal to hit-and-run, the police will have a criminal case running parallel to your possible civil claim.
Criminal Case Involving a Hit-and-Run
Like most U.S. jurisdictions, the police in California do not need you to press charges to open a criminal case. Instead, police officers investigate crimes and gather evidence. They present this evidence to prosecutors who decide whether to file charges.
The police will need your testimony and physical evidence from your car. But since you have no role in the charging decision, you do not need a lawyer for the criminal case against the hit-and-run driver.
The situation changes drastically if you committed the hit-and-run. Whenever you face criminal charges, you should consult a lawyer. A criminal attorney can defend you against criminal charges by identifying mitigating or exculpatory facts.
In a hit-and-run case, for example, you might have been experiencing a medical emergency when you left the accident scene. Or maybe someone else was driving your car at the time.
Personal Injury Case Involving a Hit-and-Run
When you suffer injuries in a crash resulting from negligence, you can get financial compensation from the at-fault driver and their insurer. In a hit-and-run case, your legal options depend on whether the police find and identify the driver who caused your crash.
The Police Did Not Find the Driver
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) solved about 8% of hit-and-run crashes in 2017. Many of these crashes only produced minor property damage. For example, a driver can report a hit-and-run if someone hits their car in a parking lot and does not leave a note.
But even if you eliminate those property damage-only (PDO) crashes, the LAPD solves a relatively low number of hit-and-run crashes. You will likely have no one to file an insurance claim against.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage and MedPay
Despite being unable to find the at-fault driver, you can still recover compensation if you bought some optional coverage with your auto insurance. This coverage pays your damages regardless of whether the hit-and-run driver gets caught.
Uninsured motorist coverage is optional in California. Insurance companies consider unidentified motorists to be uninsured. You can file a claim under your uninsured motorist coverage after a hit-and-run crash. To recover benefits, you must show the crash was a hit-and-run accident and your injuries resulted from the collision.
Medical payments (MedPay) coverage is also optional in California. When you get injured in a crash, MedPay covers your medical bills up to the policy limit. MedPay benefits get paid regardless of whether the other driver caused the crash. As a result, MedPay will pay after a hit-and-run crash.
Collision coverage covers the property damage from a collision with another vehicle. Like MedPay, collision benefits get paid after all collisions whether the other driver was at fault or not.
You can hire a lawyer to help you file these claims, but you can also file these claims on your own.
The Police Found the Driver
You will probably need a lawyer if the police identify the other driver. Many hit-and-run drivers leave the scene because they:
- Are intoxicated
- Lack auto insurance
- Have outstanding warrants
If the hit-and-run driver had insurance, you can file a claim with their insurer. You must prove that the driver was negligent and that the crash caused your injuries. You may need a lawyer to handle your claim.
For uninsured hit-and-run drivers, you can only get compensation by filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. You will be seeking a personal judgment against the driver.
Should you proceed with a lawsuit, you will probably need a lawyer to prepare and file the pleadings. You will also need a lawyer to negotiate with the at-fault driver to try to settle the case. If you do not settle your claim, your lawyer will present your case to a jury.
Hiring a Lawyer After a Hit-and-Run Crash
After a hit-and-run accident, you should consider talking to an injury lawyer. Most attorneys offer a free initial consultation to new clients. You can discuss your case with the lawyer and whether you need to hire them. Lawyers have an obligation to give honest and objective advice. The lawyer will tell you if you do not need to hire them.
Bear in mind that your situation will evolve if the police identify the perpetrator of your hit-and-run accident. Keep in touch with the police, and if things change, talk to an injury lawyer about whether you need to hire them.
Contact Petrov Law Firm by filling out our online contact form or calling our office 24/7 at (619) 344-0360 to discuss your hit-and-run accident and whether you need to hire a lawyer for your injury claim.