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

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 themself to the other driver or to 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 MedPay, but you may not be covered in all situations. Here are details about what to do after a hit-and-run in California.

What constitutes a hit-and-run in California?

In California, a hit-and-run is when a driver leaves the scene of an 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 themself. Drivers are expected to provide "reasonable assistance" to help others receive medical attention if necessary, such as calling for an ambulance.

The only exception is leaving the scene in order to receive medical care for yourself or someone else. However, even in these cases, it is best to give your name, contact number and insurance information to the other driver 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 you 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 penalities for committing a hit-and-run are harsh, though they 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 after an accident 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 is killed.

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 and the days and weeks following the incident. 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 detail you can provide to the police, the better. Try to note of every detail you can, especially the following:

  • Car make, model and color
  • Unique or identifying marks on the car, like 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 on the impact point or a broken-off piece of the other car's body. Ask nearby witnesses for more detail 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 it 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 describing repairs to your car and any medical attention you receive.

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

There are many different forms of car insurance available in California, and which part of your policy to make a claim to 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, while your comprehensive coverage won't. And you can always make a MedPay claim for injuries, since it applies regardless of who is at fault in 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 make a claim to your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Even if you are unable to identify the driver, you can still make a claim to 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?
CollisionYes
MedPayYes
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.
ComprehensiveNo
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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 a "reasonable time" of the accident.

Matt is a Technical Writer at ValuePenguin who works on distilling the complex details of insurance into accessible advice. He previously created educational content at Grovo Learning and MarketSmiths Content Strategists. Matt's consumer-focused analysis of insurance has appeared in publications like CNBC, Yahoo Finance and the Miami Herald.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.