A hit-and-run collision is one where the driver of the at-fault vehicle flees the scene after the collision. Can someone injured in a hit-and-run collision still recover for personal injuries? First, it is important to report the collision to the police and give them a chance to locate the other vehicle. If you can provide a description of the driver or the vehicle or even a partial plate number, it makes it more likely the police can locate the vehicle and the driver.
If The Police Catch the At-Fault Driver
If the police are able to locate the at-fault vehicle, you can make a claim for personal injuries against the insurance coverage on that vehicle. This is the case even if the driver of that vehicle cannot be located. Insurance coverage on a vehicle is liable to cover any accidents that result from the negligence of the driver of their covered auto, unless that vehicle is stolen. So if the police track down a hit-and-run vehicle, and find it in a parking spot in front of the owner’s house with visible damage, but the owner of the vehicle denies that he has any knowledge of anyone in his household being involved in a collision, this will be insufficient for him to avoid having his insurance cover the damages caused in the wreck.
Often, in the situation described here, the insurance will initially deny coverage. But unless the owner reports the vehicle stolen to the police, then the insurance coverage should still be liable for the losses caused in the wreck, and this denial should be overturned. This is because North Carolina law provides that all vehicles registered in the state must have insurance coverage meeting certain minimum requirements, or limits. And one of those requirements is that the insurance coverage must provide liability coverage to persons in certain minimum amounts, currently $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident (this is called a “minimum limits policy” or a “30/60”). Insurance companies can limit or deny coverage based on the actions or inactions of their insured.
For example, an owner of a vehicle who fails to list all the drivers in his household on his insurance application, or who fails to provide a recorded statement to his own insurance might be considered to have “failed to cooperate” with his insurance. But the effect of this is to limit, and not eliminate coverage. So for example, an owner with limits of $500,000 in liability coverage might see his coverage reduced down to $30,000/$60,000 in available coverage for failing to cooperate. But the coverage does not disappear entirely, and is still available up to the minimum limits required by law.
Understanding the Law
The law is written this way to offer some protection to injured persons, and so as not to reward drivers who flee the scene of a collision and deny involvement. Of course, some owners may go the extra step and file a police report, claiming their vehicle was stolen. This can have the effect of voiding all coverage, even minimum limits. But reporting a vehicle stolen when it was not stolen carries huge risks.
Taking the example above, the police would certainly question why a vehicle would be stolen then returned to its owner, and would investigate the “theft” thoroughly. If they discover the vehicle was truly not stolen, then the owner might face criminal charges, including filing a false police report, or even insurance fraud. For this reason, most times we see a hit-and-run involving a claim of a stolen car, we find that no police report was filed on the “stolen” vehicle, and the result is that insurance coverage fully applies.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM)
However, in many hit-and-runs, the at-fault vehicle is never located. In those instances, it is important to look for Uninsured Motorist coverage (UM). If the injured victim has an auto insurance policy, he can make a claim under his own insurance for coverage. The vehicle he was occupying, and the policies of any of his family members in his home should also be checked for UM.
UM coverage acts like it is insurance coverage for the hit-and-run vehicle, and presenting a UM claim should not raise the insurance rates on the policyholder. UM coverage will still only apply if the hit-and-run driver was at fault in the collision, and normal motor vehicle rules and laws apply, meaning UM coverage can step in and deny that the fleeing vehicle was solely at fault or solely responsible for the injuries incurred. Of course, it is rare that someone flees the scene of an accident unless they were at- fault in the wreck. But it is not rare for UM carriers to argue that the victim of the wreck also contributed to the collision and is therefore ineligible to recover damages. (Contributory negligence is a law unique to North Carolina and a handful of other jurisdictions, that can bar many claims of injury on the grounds that a victim shared responsibility for a collision).
It is important to note that UM coverages almost always include language providing that the coverage will only apply if 1) there was an impact between the vehicles, and 2) a police report was filed within a certain timeframe. Therefore, UM coverage would not apply to an instance where a phantom vehicle merges into your lane, forcing you to try and avoid colliding with it by driving off the road and into a tree. If there was not some touching of the victim’s vehicle and the at-fault vehicle, the UM coverage will almost certainly be denied. The intent of this rule is to avoid situations where drivers simply veer off the road into a tree or a sign then blame another vehicle that never existed.
If you do not have UM coverage, or the UM coverage does not apply, you may still have some limited coverage if you carry Medpay or Medical Payments coverage. Most auto insurance policies include this coverage, which is a no-fault coverage, i.e. coverage designed to cover injuries involved in the operation of an auto regardless of who or what was responsible for the wreck. Medpay coverage can apply to a standard wreck where another driver hits you from behind (even if that driver has insurance to pay for the loss), or to a wreck where a driver hit a deer, or even to a wreck where the driver fell asleep behind the wheel and drove into a tree injuring himself. Medpay policies are usually quite small (around $1,000) but they cover a broad-range of claims not covered by other accidents. And, in most instances you can recover from another policy and from a Medpay policy without any issues.
Raleigh Attorneys – Ready to Help
Our attorneys work diligently to understand the intricacies of North Carolina insurance coverage rules and regulations, and the other areas of law referenced above. If you have been hurt in a hit-and-run collision, or if you just have a coverage question, we are happy to provide a free consultation. We may not be able to tell you whether or what coverage applies after a short phone call, but we will let you know if there is something there that warrants further investigation and if we think we can help.