Car accidents are never a pleasant experience. This experience is made that much worse if the driver at fault fled the scene. Being involved in a hit and run accident can be confusing because the person who is at fault may not have been identified, and the victim may not only have to deal with the injuries but is also stuck with medical bills. You should get in touch with us at the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm to identify the available options for seeking compensation by holding the responsible parties accountable.
What Constitutes a Hit and Run Car Accident in California?
A hit and run accident is an occurrence where the driver of a vehicle deliberately fails to stop to give his/her name, license number, and other information. The California statute states that a driver should provide their information to the injured party, law enforcement officers, or a witness. Motorists are also required to offer assistance to the wounded so they can receive medical examinations and treatments if needed, like calling an ambulance.
Although the at-fault party aspect is not considered in a criminal case for hit and run accident, if as a victim you file a lawsuit, you have to prove the other motorist is liable for your injuries. When a civil suit is filed against the driver who fled, it is difficult for him or her to convince the court that they are not liable for the accident.
What is the Period Stipulated in the Statute of Limitations for a Hit and Run Car Accident?
As most personal injury claims, hit and run accidents have a two-year statute of limitations. In California, hit and run car accident claims fall under the California Civil Procedure Code Section 335.1 and personal injury. The code states that an injured individual has a maximum of two years from the injury date to take legal action against the hit and run driver or your insurance company. The lawsuit helps the victim obtain financial compensation for damages from a car accident injury. The statute of limitations expires after two years from the date of the accident. However, if the car accident injury was not realized immediately after the accident, then you can be awarded one more year to take legal action.
What to Do After a Hit and Run Car Accident
Although being involved in a hit-and-run accident can be frustrating because the person responsible for the accident is nowhere to be found, you should adhere to the following step:
- You should immediately advance to an out of harm location if required, and search for any injuries you might have sustained. Then, contact the police so they can arrive at the scene and take a police report
- You should then seek medical attention as some injuries may not be self-evident
- It is essential to establish the identity of the driver that fled the scene by gathering information about the accident. You can note down the car make and model, the vehicle's license plate, and the driver's distinct characteristics
- Try to collect evidence of the other vehicle, for instance, a paint scrape left on the impact point or damaged portions of the other car's parts
- If any individuals witnessed the accident, you should get the contact information for these witnesses. You should also search for any close by CCTV cameras that may have recorded the accident
Insurance Claim Process
In the state of California, all drivers must be covered under liability auto insurance. Drivers are required to obtain at least the following auto insurance coverages:
- Bodily injury liability coverage
- Property damage liability coverage
- Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage
- Uninsured motorist property damage coverage
The uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage helps pay for medical bills and lost wages if you're hit by a driver without insurance but may also help cover hit and run accidents. For victims of hit and run car accidents where the at-fault party may not be identified, or the driver is uninsured, the uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage auto insurance can help with your expenses.
Bodily injury liability is car insurance coverage that pays for injuries a driver causes to other drivers in a car accident. The policy covers medical expenses and lost wages as well as legal and funeral expenses in some cases. If the liable party in a hit and run accident is identified, the insurance company of the defendant will pay the costs incurred as a result of the injuries caused by the accident.
Negotiating with Your Insurance Company
If the identification of a hit and run driver is not possible, a unique variation in securing compensation is that you are required to negotiate a resolution with your insurance carrier.
Although the uninsured insurance coverage entitles you to compensation, you still have to satisfy the following requirements:
- Physical Contact
Physical contact is required for you to make a hit and run allegation in California, which means that accidents caused by phantom drivers are not included in uninsured insurance coverage. A phantom driver is responsible for causing an accident without physical contact. For instance, a driver might suddenly cut or merge into a lane, causing you to switch your direction instantly to avoid crashing into the car and instead hit other property, a ditch, or a barrier.
- Inform Your Insurance Provider
You need to inform the police of the accident in less than 24 hours of the incident and also report the claim to your insurance company before the end of 30 days. The insurance company might dispute the claim if you miss the deadline.
After putting in place a claim with your insurance company, an insurance claims adjuster will be given the responsibility to your case. The adjuster will handle most of the work necessary to achieve a solution by making contact and communicating with you during the claim filing and settlement procedure. In most cases, the adjuster will first make sure your injuries or loss are included in the insurance coverage you acquired. If you are insured under the uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage, the claim adjuster will look further into your allegations. The investigation stage of the demand process may pertain the adjuster undertaking the following steps:
- Reviewing the police reports
- Interviewing eyewitnesses or observers to the accident
- Inspecting the injuries
- Reviewing your medical records
- Taking photographs and
- Gathering other relevant information
An adjuster will likely prepare a report after investigating the facts and nature of the incident. The damage document will include a comprehensive analysis of the monetary details of the accident, regarding the overall losses sustained from the accident.
Negotiating with your insurance company might be easier compared to dealing with another driver's insurance company. Although your carrier might be lenient with you to keep you a happy customer, he or she works for the best interest of the company and will likely pay you as little as possible. It is vital to be ready to present a strong case and expect an adversarial process.
Negotiating With the Defendant’s Insurance Company
After identifying the other driver using the information you gathered, you still have to prove that he or she is responsible for the accident that resulted in your injuries.
In this case, an insurance adjuster will also be assigned to your case and will undertake an investigation process. The claims adjuster will make an initial offer for the settlement from the information noted down in the damage report. Most likely, the initial offer will be lower than you anticipated. However, you still have the option of negotiating the initial offer to a fair settlement.
The negotiation process may take a long period as you will have to engage in conversation with the insurance adjuster. The negotiation proceeding takes place so you can elaborate on how injuries affect your life and why you deserve the settlement you demanded. Although the negotiation proceeding may be exasperating, there are some crucial procedures that you may apply to ease the competence of the settlement:
- Decide on the Least Possible Settlement Claim
Understanding the worth of your demand is a very vital part of the settlement process. Being aware of the value of your ask may help you negotiate more successfully. You can calculate the worth of your compensation by taking into consideration essential elements such as the amount of lost wages, the cost of your medical bills, and out of pocket expenses.
Estimating the worth of your demand can put you at a point where you can effectively negotiate for a just and fair settlement. You should reject any amount lower than the estimate of your damages and only try to settle for a reasonable settlement.
- Emphasize the Asperity of the Accident
You must stick to and defend the worth of your claim during the negotiation process. Focus attention on the asperity of the accident, the degree of your injuries, and the impact of those injuries on your living experience both mentally and physically. You can support the worth of your claim by referring to crucial information such as reports and medical tests, and pictures of your injuries. Demonstrating the proof of your injuries can make it difficult for insurance adjusters to low-ball you and may make a reasonable offer to avoid a lawsuit.
- Do Not Acknowledge Responsibility for the Accident
Insurance adjusters will come up with questions designed to make you admit responsibility. Although it is essential to be cooperative and honest with a claims adjuster, you should avoid accepting any responsibility for the incident. Once you agree to even a simple mistake, the adjuster will use that information to decrease your claim or, in some cases, not offer any amount.
If you have a strong case, the insurance company will likely try to settle by offering a reasonable claim to avoid proceeding to court. Once the adjuster offers a fair amount, it is vital to validate the arrangement in written communication. If you can not agree, you can then file for a civil lawsuit, and the court will issue a judgment on the settlement. You should be persistent and patient during the negotiation process as the court may also involve third-party mediators to try and solve the case at the settlement stage.
Filing a Formal Civil Lawsuit
A formal lawsuit or personal injury case is initiated when you file a civil complaint against a corporation, person, or government agency. The lawsuit accuses the parties of acting in a negligent manner leading to the hit and run car accident that resulted in your injury.
You will have to visit the county clerk's office to fill out the necessary information about the case. The report includes your name, the driver you are suing, and the amount you are requesting as compensation. Once you have filed your claim with the court, you need to notify the defendant that they are being sued by hiring the services of a private server, involve the sheriff, or use a certified mail.
At the court, you will present evidence to prove your case. You also have the option of involving a mediator instead of going to trial at the pre-trial hearing.
Selection of a Jury
If you decide on proceeding to a personal injury trial, both parties will first undertake the process of selection of a jury.
Provide Opening Statement
Both parties can then give opening statements after the selection of the jury. Your attorney will present the facts and nature of the accident and the defendant's alleged role. The defendant's attorney will then present defenses to the allegations.
Arguments and Evidence Presentation
Each side will then present arguments and evidence to the jury. Experts and witnesses may also testify to strengthen your case. The witnesses may include medical providers, accident reconstruction experts, or eyewitnesses to the accident. Your attorney may also introduce other applicable evidence such as police reports, medical reports, photographs, and videos. Testimonies from your employers, your friends, and family explaining how the accident has affected your life may have the jury sympathize with you.
Deliberation and Verdict by the Jury
The jury will then deliberate and give a verdict. If the jury finds the other party liable, then they will decide on the amount of damages you are to be awarded. The party found liable can also choose to appeal the decision to an appellate court in California's judicial system.
Compensation in Defective Airbags Cases
In a personal injury case, money damages are compensated to an injured person by the person or organization who is found to be lawfully liable for the accident. Personal injury compensation is awarded either from court granted damages after a judgment in your favor or settlement from an insurance claim.
One of the essential aspects of evaluating a personal injury liability claim is determining what kinds and number of damages you have experienced. Damages are the total amount of money you will acquire in a lawsuit either to compensate for some injury or loss or to penalize the defendant for wrongdoing.
Compensatory damages are meant to restore you to the status you were in before the injury as a result of the hit and run car accident.
Special damages, also knowns as economic losses, are damages directly affiliated to the injury you sustained that can be calculated and documented. Providing evidence for special damages is commonly a matter of collecting receipts, bills, and other records showing the actual expenses you acquired as a result of the injury.
The economic losses compensate for monetary costs incurred because of an injury. The financial losses that can be paid in a hit and run personal injury case include:
- Medical Expenses
The medical bills you incurred both in the past and any that you may acquire in the future will be compensated if you win your injury case. Your records and medical bills are an exceedingly essential bit of your injury demand. Ask for duplicates of all your documents and medical bills to provide proof of the costs. You will ask for compensation for the expenses of all your medical aid, starting straight right after the accident, to the present time, and in some cases, into the future. For you to receive compensation for upcoming expenses on medical treatments, your medical provider needs to demonstrate why you need the procedure and for how long.
- Lost Income
When the case concludes either by settling or going to trial, you will have to be compensated for the amount of income you lost by taking time off work or resigning from your job. You can only be paid if you sustained severe and long term injuries, which affected your ability to attend to your work duties. Provide proof of your lost wages with a document from your employer indicating the work-time you lost, your regular pay rate, and benefits such as vacation and sick days payments.
- Lost Earning Capacity
Lost earning capacity, also known as Impairment of earning power or future loss of earnings, refers to a decrease in a person's ability to earn an income due to the permanent or long term injuries.
Permanent or long term injuries caused by a hit and run car accident may qualify for lost earning capacity. It might entitle you to further damages in addition to those from lost wages.
- Out-of-Pocket Expenses
The out-of-pocket cost includes all other expenses affiliated with your injury and the accident. Affiliated expenses can consist of:
- Medical aids such as crutches, slings, wheelchairs, or bandages
- Prescription and medications purchased without a prescription
- Gasoline and parking payments when attending medical appointments
Hold on to receipts for items acquired for your treatment and injury, immediately after the accident. In some cases, you can approximate future expenses.
The non-economic losses compensation are damages that are not capable of exact calculation and may include pain and suffering, and in some cases, loss of consortium. There is a greater chance of having damages issued if there is a physical indication of the injury. They include the following:
- Pain and Suffering
You may be compensated for a severe physical injury that causes bodily or mental anguish for a lengthy period following an accident. Factors influencing pain and suffering compensation consist of immediate and upcoming surgeries, the medication prescribed and forms of treatment, and the anticipation of a long and challenging recovery.
- Loss of Consortium
Loss of consortium refers to the loss of the benefits of a family relationship, including affection and intimate relations due to injuries caused by an accident. The spouse or a family member of someone killed or injured in a hit and run car accident can sue for damages based on loss of consortium.
- Compensation for Wrongful Death
If the claim is made on behalf of the estate of a deceased person, the estate can seek compensation for medical expenses incurred before death, Pre-death pain and suffering, and funeral and burial expenses.
Surviving family members may seek compensation for loss of financial support from the deceased's earnings, emotional distress and grief, and loss of consortium.
Disbursement of Your Injury Settlement
After you settle, some steps need to take place for you to receive your funds. The settlement award will be deposited in a trust account with your attorney so that all remaining costs can be paid out of your settlement. Your attorney will then use the money to pay off your medical bills, any medical liens, and take out their fees from this account. Any attorney fees and costs incurred must be paid out of your settlement funds.
Find a San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me
If you have been injured in a hit and run car accident, you might be distressed on how you can prove that you were not at fault. At times, you may not have any of the distinctive information that is accessible after an accident, such as the identity of the liable driver, the at-fault driver's insurance information, or disclosure from the at-fault driver. Contact our expert lawyers from the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm at 619-478-4059, who can investigate the incident to establish the identity of the hit and run driver. Even if the at-fault driver can not be located, we can still help you undertake an insurance claim against your own uninsured motorist insurance company.