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

In California, a hit-and-run is a serious crime defined as an accident in which a driver leaves the scene without properly stopping to identify themself to the other driver or to the police. If you're the victim of a hit-and-run, make note of all the information you can 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.

What Constitutes a Hit-and-run in California?

In California, a hit-and-run is whenever a driver leaves the scene of an accident without providing contact information to the other driver; or, in a more serious accident, leaving the scene 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 also expected to provide "reasonable assistance" to others in order to receive medical attention if necessary, such as calling for an ambulance.

The only exception to this is if you leave 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 and contact and insurance information to the other driver before heading to the hospital.

Keep in mind that the act of committing a hit-and-run is not defined by who was at fault. So even if you are not at fault in an accident, if 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 consequences of committing a hit-and-run are harsh, but they also vary greatly by the severity of the accident. If there is damage to the vehicles but no bodily injury to anyone involved, it is considered a "misdemeanor hit-and-run" and can carry a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail. On the other hand, if you commit a hit-and-run after an accident in which someone is injured, you'll face a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 and up to four years in prison. This is considered "felony hit-and-run," and the exact sentence will depend on the extent of the injuries sustained and whether anyone is killed.

What Should I Do After I Experience a Hit-and-Run?

There are two parts to responding to a hit-and-run: what to do in the immediate aftermath and in the days and weeks following the incident. The two most important things to remember 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 a victim of a hit-and-run, you should immediately move your car to a safe location if necessary, and check to see whether anyone involved 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 make a 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.
  • Car's license plate number.
  • Driver's appearance.
  • Circumstances of the crash.

Try to collect evidence even if the other driver is already gone when you get there. 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

In many respects, making an insurance 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.

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.

One thing to note: None of the forms of insurance that cover you in a hit-and-run are required in California, so if you've opted for the minimum amount of coverage, you will likely be on your own.

Form of InsuranceCan 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

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.

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