Hit and Run Accidents

Hit and run accidents are more common throughout the United States than you might think.  A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report indicated that an average of 682,000 hit and run crashes occur annually (based on data recorded since 2006).  If you’ve been injured in a hit and run accident, then you may have a right of action for damages, even if the other driver cannot be found.  If the driver can be found and depending on the circumstances, your case may be strengthened by the fact that the defendant fled the scene.

Reasons Why a Defendant May Flee the Scene

There are a number of reasons as to why a defendant may flee the scene of an accident, some of which are more “egregious” than others.  Consider the following:

  • Lack of insurance coverage
  • Underinsured
  • Concern over potential liability
  • Driving while intoxicated (and want to avoid being arrested and charged)
  • Fear of reprisal
  • Shock
  • Unaware of collision

If a defendant flees the scene, you are not entirely without options for litigating your injury claims.  You may be able to identify the defendant by gathering and evaluating surveillance footage, speaking to eyewitnesses or by monitoring the accident scene after the collision, as most drivers tend to stick to a pattern of travel if the collision occurred on a daily commute.

Civil Liability for a Hit and Run Accident

Hit and run accidents may not only expose the defendant to criminal liability, but may also expose them to potential civil liability, which gives you an opportunity to recover significant damages for the injuries you sustain as a result of their behavior.

Evidence is Probative of Negligence

The fact that the defendant-driver fled the scene of the accident is not — in and of itself — enough to establish negligence.  Generally speaking, evidence of a hit and run accident can be admissible as evidence of wrongdoing. The circumstances (aside from the fact that the defendant fled the scene) must be sufficient to infer negligence.

Punitive Damages Liability

Fleeing the scene of a motor vehicle accident may give rise to punitive damages liability in certain circumstances.  Punitive damages are awarded quite infrequently — the court imposes punitive damages only when the defendant has engaged in willfully malicious acts, egregious acts, reckless acts, and/or acts that showcase a disregard of the safety of others.

Fleeing the scene of an accident may be interpreted as a reckless disregard for the injured person’s safety, or it may even be viewed as a malicious act.  Of course, in some cases, a plaintiff may flee the scene out of fear or mere instinct.  Depending on the facts surrounding the hit and run accident at issue, it may qualify for punitive damages under the law.

Punitive damages are a punishment — they are meant to discourage same or similar behavior in society.  When punitive damages are calculated, they may therefore extend well past the actual losses.  For example, if you are injured in a hit and run accident where your damages total $50,000, then the court may award punitive damages of up to $300,000, for a total recovery of $350,000.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage

If the driver of the vehicle who caused the collision cannot be located, you may still be able to present a claim for the losses and harms that you sustained in a hit and run accident.  Uninsured Motorist Coverage, provided by your own automobile insurance policy, allows a means of recovery for this type of collision, as long as certain conditions are met.

About the Author:

Attorney Jonathan J. Russell has been a member of Drake, Hileman and Davis, PC since 1993 and a shareholder and principal in the firm since 1998. Jonathan received his law degree from Villanova University School of Law and his Bachelor’s degree from Eastern Nazarene College. As a trial attorney, Jonathan has been an advocate for his clients throughout all phases of the litigation process. He has obtained successful verdicts and awards before judges, juries and arbitration panels. Jonathan has been recognized by the publishers of Philadelphia Magazine, as a SuperLawyer for the past eight years and is a member of the Million dollar Advocates Forum.