What to Do After a Hit-and-Run in California

In California, a hit-and-run is a serious crime in which a driver leaves the scene of an accident without stopping to properly identify themselves to the other driver or the police.

If you're the victim of a hit-and-run, make note of as much information as possible about the incident, especially about the fleeing vehicle. Stay in contact with your insurance company and law enforcement throughout the claims process.

Hit-and-runs are covered by some types of insurance, such as collision and medical payments (MedPay), but you may not be covered in all situations. Here are details about what to do after a hit-and-run in California.

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What constitutes a hit-and-run in California?

In California, a hit-and-run is when a driver — whether at fault or a victim — leaves the scene of any accident without providing contact information to the other driver or leaves the scene of a serious accident before the police arrive.

For example, you are rear-ended in traffic and the other driver continues on their way without stopping, or someone hits your parked car while you're away and doesn't leave a note identifying themselves.

Any driver whose car is involved in an accident that causes injury is also legally obligated to provide "reasonable assistance" to help others receive medical attention, if necessary, such as calling for an ambulance.

The only acceptable exception for leaving the scene is in order to receive medical care for yourself or someone else. However, even in these cases, the drivers should exchange names, contact numbers and insurance information before heading to the hospital.

Keep in mind that the hit-and-run is not defined by who was at fault. Even if you are not at fault in an accident but leave the scene without contacting the other driver, you have committed a hit-and-run.

What's more, running away suggests a measure of guilt, and it may be harder to convince your insurance company that you were not responsible for the accident.

Consequences of committing a hit-and-run

The penalties for committing a hit-and-run are harsh and vary greatly by the severity of the accident, ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony.

  • If there is vehicle damage but no bodily injury to anyone, it is a misdemeanor hit-and-run, carrying a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
  • A hit-and-run in which someone is injured carries a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 and up to four years in prison. This is a felony hit-and-run, with the sentence depending on the extent of the injuries and whether anyone was killed in the accident.

What should I do if I experience a hit-and-run?

There are two parts to responding to a hit-and-run: the immediate aftermath of the incident and the days and weeks that follow. The most important things throughout the process are to gather as much information as you can and stay in regular contact with your insurer and the police.

At the scene of a hit-and-run

If you're the victim of a hit-and-run, immediately move your car to a safe location, if necessary, and check whether anyone is injured. Then, call 911 so that anyone who needs medical attention can receive it and the police can come and take a report.

The more details you can provide to the police, the better. Try to note every detail you can, especially the following:

  • Car make, model and color
  • Unique or identifying marks on the car, such as bumper stickers or dents
  • License plate number
  • Driver's appearance
  • Circumstances of the crash

Try to collect any evidence of the other driver, even if they are already gone. For example, look for evidence of their vehicle, such as a paint scrape at the point of impact or a broken-off piece of their car. Ask nearby witnesses for more details and to corroborate that the other driver fled. Take pictures of your car and the accident scene as well.

Following the accident

Making a claim after a hit-and-run is similar to most other types of car insurance claims. You'll alert your provider that the incident occurred, and they will gather information about what happened and process your claim.

According to California law, you may make a claim for a hit-and-run up to two years after the accident, but the sooner you submit your claim, the sooner you'll be paid.

You may need to make an additional statement to the police, and you should track their investigation. As with all insurance claims, take careful notes, documenting repairs to your car and any medical attention you receive.

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What kind of insurance covers a hit-and-run in California?

There are many forms of car insurance available in California, and which part of your policy to make a claim with depends on what happens in the aftermath of your accident. First off, no matter the circumstances of the hit-and-run, your collision coverage will help cover damage to your car, but your comprehensive coverage won't. And you can always make a MedPay claim for injuries, since it applies regardless of who is at fault for the accident.

If you successfully identify the driver after they flee the scene, you'll likely be able to make a claim against their liability coverage. Or, if they're uninsured, you can submit a claim for your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Even if you are unable to identify the driver, you can still make a claim with your uninsured/underinsured coverage for bodily injury for a hit-and-run. However, you may not make a claim to uninsured/underinsured coverage for property damage if you don't know the identity of the other driver.

Note that none of the forms of insurance that cover you in a hit-and-run are required in California, so if you've chosen the minimum coverage, you will likely be on your own.

Form of insurance
Can I make a claim?
Uninsured/underinsured: Bodily injuryYes
Uninsured/underinsured: Property damageOnly if you know who hit you
Liability (the other driver's policy)Only if you know who hit you

The insurance costs of filing a claim for a hit-and-run

Unfortunately, if you can't identify the driver who hit you and file a collision insurance claim, you'll be responsible for paying your own deductible, even if you weren't at fault.

However, California law has specific requirements about when insurers can raise rates. The law expressly states that your insurance rates cannot go up after a hit-and-run claim, so long as you make your claim within "reasonable time" of the accident.

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