Fleeing the scene after an accident is a serious crime. A hit-and-run accident is when an unknown driver causes property damage, injuries, or death to another. The unknown assailant leaves the scene of the accident without providing their information. Being involved in an auto accident is overwhelming to all the parties involved. Oftentimes, many individuals have the instinct to either stay (fight) or run (flight). Nevertheless, for some unknown drivers in hit-and-run accidents, they might choose flight to avoid responsibility for the damages they caused, they were intoxicated while driving, or did not have insurance. Regardless of the reason why the unknown driver chose to run, leaving the scene of an accident is a crime.
If you were injured by an unknown driver in a hit-and-run, then you’re probably wondering about your property damage, and even medical expenses if you were in the vehicle at the time. Unfortunately, hit-and-run crashes and fatalities are continuing to increase. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety, the highest fatality rates related to hit-and-run crashes resulted in 2016. There was a total of 2,049 fatalities and 1,980 hit-and-run crashes. When you start your car, you don’t expect to be involved in an accident, much less, for the driver who caused the accident to flee. It is crucial that all drivers on the road, exercise care for others, and are attentive because everyone that is on the road is one decision away that can cause another their life. Hit-and-run accidents can result in catastrophic injuries or the wrongful death of a loved one. After the accident, you might want to seek compensation from your insurance provider or any other policy. If you were in a hit-and-run car accident, it is imperative to consult with a legal professional. Attempting to seek compensation on your own can be complicated.
Hit & Run Accident Lawyer in Bellingham, WA
Being in a motor vehicle accident is a horrible experience. It is completely unexpected, and the damages can be long-term. After any motor vehicle accident, the injuries can range from something as small as a burn to more severe such as brain injury. However, the situation worsens when it is a hit-and-run accident. How will you seek compensation?
Your life can be permanently changed and disrupted. Usually, after a hit-and-run accident, the victim is deserted, and they have to handle all the damages associated with the car accident. For instance, the victim will have hospital bills if he/she was hit while they were in the vehicle, property damage, and emotional distress. In situations when the victims die because of the hit, loved ones are left suffering and having to pick up the pieces. If you or a loved one were a victim of a hit-and-run accident, consult with a car accident attorney at PNW Trial Lawyers.
At PNW Trial Lawyers, ensuring our clients are properly compensated for their injuries and expenses is one of our top concerns. Our first concern is our clients’ well-being. Our experienced car accident attorneys understand how frustrating and stressful hit-and-run accidents are. Let us represent you and fight for your right to pursue fair and just compensation. We are located in Bellingham, Washington, and serve clients in Mt. Vernon, Everett, Anacortes, and in the surrounding areas of Whatcom County, Skagit County, and Snohomish County.
So, please don’t hesitate and don’t wait, give us a call at (360) 483-5201 to schedule a free consultation.
Overview of Hit & Run Accidents
- Washington State Laws
- What to do After a Hit & Run Accident
- Compensation Complications & Insurance Companies
- Additional Resources
Washington State Laws
The laws in Washington are meant to protect victims of car accidents. Washington’s Revised Code Chapter 46 Section 52 makes it mandatory to immediately stop, locate and notify the owner of the damaged vehicle, provide assistance to any injured party, and remain at the scene of the accident.
- RCW 46.52.010: Duty on Striking Unattended Car – The operator of any vehicle that strikes another vehicle which is unattended, must immediately stop. He/she must locate and notify the vehicle owner and provide the victim with his/her information. If the operator of the vehicle that caused the collision cannot find the owner of the victim’s vehicle, then he/she must leave their information “in a conspicuous place.”
- RCW 46.52.020: Duty in case of Personal Injury, Death, or Damage to Attended Vehicle – The driver of any vehicle involved in a car accident resulting in the “injury to, or death of any person,” must stay at the scene of the accident. If they are in a heavy traffic area, the parties involved in the accident must move “the vehicle as soon as possible off the roadway or freeway main lanes.” Furthermore, if a driver strikes another vehicle while it is attended, they must exchange information (name, address, insurance company, insurance policy number, and vehicle license number), and if any individual is injured, “reasonable assistance” must be provided.
- 52.020(4)(a): Death of Driver – Any driver who is covered by RCW 46.52.020(1) and fails to stop or comply with the requirements of RCW 46.52.020(3) and the accident results in the death of the victim, the driver is guilty of a “class B felony.”
- 52.020(4)(b): Injury to Driver – Any driver who is covered by RCW 46.52.020(1) and fails to stop or comply with RCW 46.52.020(3) and the accident results in an injury, the driver is “guilty of a class C felony.”
- 52.020(4)(c): Property Damage – Any driver who is covered by RCW 46.52.020(1) and fails to stop or comply with RCW 46.52.020(3) and the accident involved striking “the body of a deceased person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.”
- RCW 9A.20.021: Maximum Sentences for Crimes
- RCW 9A.20.021(1)(b) – A class B felony has a maximum of ten (10) years in prison and a fine of $20,000
- RCW 9A.20.021(1)(c) – A class C felony has a maximum of five (5) years in prison and a fine of $10,000
- RCW 9A.20.021(2) – A gross misdemeanor defined in RCW 9A is punishable by a maximum of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
- RCW 9A.20.021(3) – A misdemeanor defined in RCW 9A is punishable by ninety (90) days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
What to do After a Hit & Run Accident
Hit-and-run accidents can be extremely traumatic for victims who are left at the scene of the accident. They might feel lost, hopeless, stunned, and in pain. If you are in a hit-and-run accident – whether your vehicle was attended or unattended – there are few things you can keep in mind to do.
- Pull-Over & Stop – If your car was attended (you were in your vehicle) when the hit-and-run happened, pull over to the side and stop your vehicle. You may be tempted to go after the unknown driver; however, this can result in further injuries. In addition, if you leave the scene of the accident you might not be able to speak to the witnesses that viewed the crime.
- Police & Medical Attention – If you have injuries, please call for medical assistance. Also, be sure you call the police and report the incident. The police officer can file an official report and gather information about the accident from witnesses. Furthermore, the police report will be essential in your insurance claim. Be sure to get the police report number.
- Gather Information/Pictures – It might be difficult at the time of the accident to focus on other details. However, if you are able to quickly write down or take a picture of the unknown driver’s license plate, it can help the police find the unknown driver. Look for distinguishable details about the car (make, model, color, damage the vehicle might have sustained, etc.), or the direction the vehicle was headed.
- Witness – Be sure to acquire the information of any witnesses. They can help back-up your statement following the accident.
- Insurance Company – Be sure to report your accident with your insurance provider. They can help you file a claim, and provide you with other services (e.g., towing, rental car, etc.). If you have uninsured (UM) or underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage, it can help cover some of the cost of the accident.
- Retain an Attorney – After a hit-and-run accident, it is crucial to obtain professional legal assistance. Consulting with a lawyer can help you determine what compensations you qualify for. Furthermore, if you file UM/UIM claim your insurance company has no obligation to represent your best interest.
There are instances when the perpetrator is found, or they turn themselves in. Nevertheless, that is not always the case. Even if the unknown driver that has caused your damages is not captured, it is still possible to seek compensation for your injuries and property damages. Instead of filing a claim against the at-fault driver, you can file a claim with your insurance provider. If your policy coverage includes uninsured or underinsured insurance, MedPay (medical payment), or personal injury protection (PIP), it can help you cover the damages from your hit-and-run accident. An experienced attorney can help guide you through the right course of action.
Compensation Complications & Insurance Companies
Generally, when you are a victim of an accident, you would seek compensation by either taking the at-fault driver to court and filing a claim or through a settlement. In other words, if the unknown driver is caught, you can seek compensation for your damages and injuries. Plaintiffs of a hit-and-run accident can seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and much more. There are a few complications in collecting compensation in a hit-and-run accident. Usually, assailants in a hit-and-run flee because they might not have auto insurance or were under the influence of marijuana or alcohol.
In hit-and-run cases, there are two main challenges in pursuing compensation. The first challenge is finding the unknown driver in order to collect the damages. If the driver cannot be found, victims are forced to collect from their own insurance policies. Secondly, if the driver is found and does not have enough coverage in their policy to compensate you for your damages. That is to say, that the driver is underinsured.
Finding the Unknown Driver
It is important to contact the police. They can interview witnesses and use their resources to spread information to find the assailant. Furthermore, if the scene of the accident happened by cameras, they can access the surveillance footage. Although the police can help you look for the unknown driver, they also have many situations and cases on their plate.
Retaining an attorney can help you in finding the unknown driver, although it does not guarantee it. Police Departments have an overload of investigations that they must go through, and a hit-and-run accident may or may not be at their highest priority. By obtaining an attorney, you are guaranteed their full attention and their priority. An experienced lawyer can use their resources to investigate on your behalf.
What happens if the Unknown Driver Is Not Found?
If the assailant cannot be found, all hope is not lost. Washington State requires that all insurance agencies offer Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Uninsured and Underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage. If you did not deny or reject the additional coverage of UM/UIM or PIP in writing, then the insurance company has it in your policy. The benefits of having underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage is that this extra layer of protection can be used in car accidents. The uninsured motorist coverage (UIM) can help victims of car accidents by covering for the damages.
However, if you rejected or denied the additional coverage of UM/UIM in writing as indicated in RCW 48.22.030(4), then you have exhausted your options. It will not be possible to seek compensation under a UIM/UM policy. Therefore, you will have to deal with the financial strain, property damage, lost wages, and medical expenses.
Claims on a UM/UIM Policy
If you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage and are filing a claim with your insurance provider to seek compensation, then you might still experience some complications. During these circumstances (UM/UIM policy claims), insurance providers do not have their policyholder’s best interest as their priority. Overall, in a hit-and-run accident, the assailant is at-fault. However, when the unknown driver cannot be found, and the victim files a claim with their insurance provider, the victim’s role as an “insured driver” becomes “uninsured driver.” In other words, in a UM/UIM policy claim, you and your insurance provider are adversaries. Thus, your rights and obligations have changed because your insurance provider does not owe a duty to defend your claim. See Ellwein v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 142 Wn.2d 766, 779-80, 15 P.3d 640 (2001).
Insurance companies tend to investigate every claim to the fullest extent. They will conduct an investigation to determine who was at -fault, the extent of your injuries, and the nature of the accident. The provider will attempt to demonstrate that the policyholder was at fault or negligent. This is because they have a financial interest to either deny or reduce your claim.
Hit-and-Run Crashes: Prevalence, Contributing Factors, and Countermeasures – View the Research Brief by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety to learn more information about the increase of hit-and-run accidents. The brief demonstrates a state-by-state analysis ranging from 2006 to 2016. Furthermore, the research brief explains how environment, victim, and driver characteristics, and other factors are contributing variables in a hit-and-run crash.
Concerned Citizens: Employment Support – Being a victim of a hit-and-run accident or any motor vehicle accident can leave you with physical, emotional, and mental injuries. If you were the victim of a hit-and-run accident and your injuries resulted in fractured bones, lost limbs, brain injury, etc. you might need extra support to make your life as normal as possible. Concerned Citizens is an organization that strives to support individuals with disabilities. They aim to raise awareness and provide individuals with a “free environment” to encourage them to reach their “full potential by expanding life experiences and enhancing general health and personal growth.”
Attorney for Hit & Run Accidents in Whatcom County, WA
If you, a loved one, or an acquittanced was involved in a hit-and-run accident, it is critical to consult with an attorney. At PNW Trial Lawyers, we can help guide you through the process, file the claims on your behalf, review the policies, and analyze the facts pertaining to your case. We want you to recover from your injuries if you sustained any and want to help you seek compensation for your damages. Leaving the scene of an accident when a party is injured is an inhumane act. At PNW Trial Lawyers, we want to help you. If you managed to acquire any information from the unknown driver (license plate number), let us assist you in seeking compensation for your damages.
If someone has abandoned you or a loved one after a hit-and-run, and you need representation or help to file a claim with your insurance provider, our attorneys are here for you. At PNW Trial Lawyers, we know that dealing with insurance companies after a hit-and-run can put you in an undesirable situation. Whether you need assistance negotiating with your insurance company to provide you with just compensation, or if you are filing a lawsuit against the driver from the hit-and-run, our experienced attorneys at PNW Trial Lawyers can help you. We serve clients in Bellingham, Mt. Vernon, Everett, Anacortes, and in the surrounding areas of Whatcom County, Skagit County, and Snohomish County. Contact us at (360) 483-5201 to schedule a free consultation.