Motor vehicle accidents happen all the time, and sometimes the at-fault driver will flee the scene before you can obtain their information. This guide will provide guidance on what to do if this ever happens to you.
1. Call the police immediately from the scene of the accident
Call the local police department immediately! Not only may they be able to catch the fleeing subject, but you also want the accident to be documented for insurance purposes. Insurance companies tend to be skeptical when it comes to hit & run accidents, due to the large amount of fraudulent claims they deal with every year. So it is extremely important to call the police to the scene of the accident so that the incident can be properly documented. This also allows you to provide the police with a detailed description of the fleeing vehicle, as well as a full or partial license plate number if you saw one, while everything is still fresh in your mind. The police will also be able to interview any witnesses who are still at the scene when they arrive.
2. Take photographs at the scene
Cell phones these days provide the luxury of having a camera on hand whenever needed. Take advantage of this and use your cell phone to take photographs at the scene of the accident. Photograph the area, any noticeable injuries, as well as the damage to your vehicle. These photographs can prove very useful for any insurance claim you need to make, and may be of assistance to local police and the district attorney's office when trying to prove criminal charges against the feeing driver if they are caught.
3. Promptly report the accident to your insurance company
Be sure to report the accident to your insurance company right away. They will want to conduct their own investigation into the accident, and any significant delay in reporting the matter to them could result in potential insurance coverage issues. If you were injured and hire an experienced personal injury lawyer right away, as discussed further in the next section, then your attorney can report to the incident to the insurance company on your behalf. But either way, whether it's you or your attorney doing it, the accident needs to be reported to your insurance company right away.
4. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible if you were injured
If you were injured, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area right away. This is especially true in cases involving hit & run drivers. It is important to have a trained professional on your side to promptly collect any available evidence (including witness statements), and to help make sure that both the accident and your injuries are properly documented. Initial consultations are free with most law offices, including mine, and most personal injuries law firms, mine included, work on a contingency fee basis (meaning the lawyer or law firm only gets paid if you do). With most Massachusetts personal injury firms, the fee collected at the end of the case is usually somewhere in the area of 33 1/3% of whatever they are able to recover for you. It costs you nothing up front, so you really have nothing to lose by taking advantage of the training and skills that can provided by an experienced personal injury lawyer. Don't make the mistake of trying to do it alone. Studies strongly support that injured accident victims are paid more often, and will almost always collect more money, when represented by counsel (see links below). An experienced personal injury lawyer can fight to make sure that any compensation you receive for your physical injuries and property damage is not only fair, but for the maximum amounts possible.
5. Get medical treatment right away for any injuries
If you are injured, or even think you may be injured, seek medical attention right away. Not only is it important for your health, but it's also important to document any injuries you may have related to the accident in the event that you later decide to pursue a legal claim for compensation. A diagnosis from a trained medical provider, immediately or very soon after a motor vehicle accident, will prove helpful down the road if a legal claim to compensate you for your injuries becomes necessary. Follow any advice given by your doctors, and be sure to seek any follow up care that is recommended.
6. How do I get paid if the "Hit & Run" driver is never caught?
So you called the police to the scene, gathered all the available evidence, promptly reported the accident to your insurance company, and retained an experienced personal injury lawyer, - but the "hit & run" driver was never caught or adequately identified. Can you still receive compensation? YES, in Massachusetts you can. Provided your vehicle is insured and you have collision coverage, your insurance company will pay to repair or replace your vehicle. This same insurance company, "your" insurance company, will also compensate you for your injuries under the "Uninsured Motorist" section of your policy - which everyone in Massachusetts with automobile insurance automatically has by law. Uninsured Motorist Coverage can provide you with not only payment for any outstanding medical bills and other out-of-pocket costs, but you can also collect a pain & suffering payment the same as if your claim were made against an at-fault driver's insurance policy. Massachusetts requires this on every automobile insurance policy written in the State. The purpose is to provide some level of protection to injured victims who are struck by a hit & run driver (or by any driver who, for whatever reason, doesn't have an active automobile insurance policy). The mandatory minimum for Uninsured Motorist coverage in Massachusetts is currently $20,000, but any insured can purchase additional coverage if they please. Unlike a claim against a known at-fault driver, there is unfortunately no way to collect more than whatever your "Uninsured Motorist" policy limit happens to be if you are seriously injured (with injuries that are valued higher than the available policy limit), but as the saying goes - "something is better than nothing". This is extremely valuable coverage, and I frequently counsel my clients to purchase more than the mandatory minimum of $20,000, as you just never know if, or when, you may fall subject to a hit & run driver. In any event, every one with a Massachusetts automobile insurance policy has at least $20,000 available to them - so yes, you can still be compensated, through your own insurance policy if you are ever struck and injured by a hit & run (or otherwise uninsured) driver.