When there is a hit and run, it can feel like you have no options. You are left injured and possibly with a damaged car, and have no information on the at-fault driver. Where do you go? What do you do?
Well first, on any auto insurance policy sold in the state of California, you are given the option of having what is called uninsured motorist coverage (“UM”). Low cost minimum policies of $15k in coverage often have UM automatically declined or they skip over this and have you check a box to decline coverage. Importantly, if your insurance company does not have proof you declined UM coverage, they may have to grant it to you anyways. Typically, your auto insurance policy will have a UM coverage equal, or close to, the amount of your liability coverage should you be at fault for an accident. UM coverage is in my opinion a MUST-HAVE feature of insurance coverage, probably more important than your liability coverage, in the State of California. In a hit and run, your insurance company acts like they are the insurance coverage for the unknown driver that hit you. You present your claim to your own insurance company, this is a BENEFIT (not a negative) of your insurance policy that your premiums that you pay entitle you to. Pursuing a claim should NOT raise your insurance rates. Not pursuing a UM claim is like not going to a doctor even when you have health insurance.
When making a claim against your UM policy, beware the dreaded “SIU” defense. SIU stands for Special Investigation Unit, and essentially means your insurance company believes you committed fraud by claiming a hit and run and will deny the claim. Now there are 4 steps that you should immediately do, or do as soon thereafter, in a hit and run, that will help protect your rights and get you compensated.
The first step is to make sure to report the hit and run to the police department. Now realistically the police will not do anything but the goal is to essentially document that a hit and run occurred and to create a possibility the perpetrator is found, even if that is a 1% chance. If you do not make a police report, your insurance company can use the failure to report the accident as a basis for claim denial. Take a screenshot, if you can, of the time and date you made the call to the police (sometimes the police do not come out and make a report, but proof of the call can be used as evidence you made a good faith attempt to report it to the police).
Second step is to become a detective. Take any photographs of damage to your car as the photos can contain key information, the way that a car is damaged from an accident can be used to prove you were hit by a car vs. a street pole. Scratches on your car can indicate the color of the car that hit you. Sometimes there is literally a license plate indentation on your car. If you have a license plate, we can use the DMV to track down the owner of the car. If there are surrounding businesses, ask them if they have security cameras that would cover the area of the crash. Often times businesses will let you see the video, if you ask nicely, and you can film their security camera footage with your cell phone. Keep in mind that often these security cameras are wiped clean in 30 days, so the clock is ticking. If there are any bystanders (i.e. people waiting for a bus) ask them if they could be a witness to prove you were involved in a hit and run.
Third step is to report the accident to your insurance company. Ideally, you have already hired an attorney who can take care of this. But I would not delay on reporting the accident to your insurance company. The more delay in reporting the hit and run, the more suspicion is put on the claim. Provide as much information you can about the subject accident but beware that anything you say can be used against you. This is especially true about your injuries. NEVER say you are okay, you are fine, or minimize your injuries. You don’t know how you will feel in 30 days or even a week after the accident as your body settles down and the pain becomes more acute. You can say that you decline to speak about your injuries but that you are injured and are seeking medical care.
Fourth step is to seek immediate medical care. It can be an Emergency Room, Urgent Care, primary care doctor, chiropractor etc. Treatment soon after the accident is further evidence that you were injured in an accident and what you say to that medical provider can be evidence to help prove you were in a hit and run, so be SURE to explain in detail what happened.