In California, it is illegal to drive off after hitting someone. Still, this happens on a regular basis, and, as an attorney, I am asked a lot of questions by victims. Here are some frequently asked questions to shed some light on what to do after a hit-and-run:
What’s the first thing I should do after a car accident?
Look around you and see if you can catch anything about the vehicle that hit you. Can you see the license plate number? If so, write it down or text it to someone. Can you at least tell the make, model, and color of the vehicle? Document it along with anything that could be used to track down the vehicle or the driver. If you can, take a picture.
What should I do next?
You should call the state highway patrol. Since most people do not have their phone number handy, just call 911 and tell them that you were in a car accident, that the other driver took off, and that you need an officer to come. They will direct you to the appropriate dispatch. Do this immediately so that they have the best chance of catching whoever hit you. If you are not in a safe location, let them know that since they may need to send a tow truck.
Will an ambulance come?
If you need them to, yes. Just let the dispatcher know that you are in need of medical assistance.
Am I required to file a traffic accident report?
Yes, and you certainly should. In order to protect your rights, you need to alert the authorities to what happened, and filing an accident report is one of the ways that you can do so. Any time there is an accident where property damage exceeds $750, someone was hurt, or someone died, an accident report has to be filed within ten days.
Will the police follow up on my case?
They certainly should since a hit-and-run is illegal. The more information you can provide them about the other vehicle the better, as, given the ability of the other driver to speed away quickly, these cases can be quite challenging. In some cases, a driver that hits one vehicle goes on to hit another, making it easier to track down the person responsible for your crash. If this happens, your accident report will be helpful in linking the accidents together.
The other driver stopped but left before I could get their contact information. What do I do?
This scenario is also treated as a hit-and-run by the state. Any driver that leaves the scene after hitting another vehicle or person can be charged with a hit-and-run unless they exchange all necessary information prior to leaving. In other words, you have to do more than just stop. You have to take the steps necessary to be accountable for the accident.
What penalties are associated with a hit-and-run?
As a car accident attorney, I do not file criminal charges or prosecute since my focus is on the civil and monetary side of the case. However, potential penalties are serious and can include jail time, paying a fine, and having a license suspended.
Can I sue the driver who hit me?
Yes, with the help of a car accident attorney you can file a lawsuit against the other driver. The challenge lies in having to find them first. This is where the police or state highway patrol become incredibly helpful. However, even if you cannot identify the other driver right away, you can still call my office to discuss your options. You can also call me with any questions regarding any injury claim.
Should I tell my insurance company?
Absolutely. After you are hit, you need to alert them and open a claim so that they can begin paying for your medical bills and any repairs to your car.