The State of California requires drivers to carry insurance at all times. Many drivers assume that carrying the minimum insurance required should cover damage done to their car in most instances. However, this is not the case. California Insurance Code Section 11580.1b only requires that drivers buy liability insurance that provides at least $15,000 in coverage for injury or death to one person, $30,000 in coverage for injury or death to more than one person, and $5,000 in coverage for property damage. This type of insurance coverage pays medical expenses and vehicle repair costs to the other driver, if the insured is at fault. Therefore, if you find yourself the victim of a hit and run accident, the minimum amount of insurance would not cover any of your costs.
25% of California motorists are driving without insurance. Drivers who carry only liability insurance are not covered in the case of an accident with an uninsured motorist and must pay for medical bills and for repairs to damaged property out of pocket. In California, a hit and run accident where the driver is unidentified is treated by insurance companies as if it were an accident with an uninsured motorist. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 11% of accidents are hit and run accidents nationwide. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts the number of hit and run accidents in California specifically at 18% of crashes.
There are optional types of coverage that will pay for some or all of the expenses of a victim of a hit and run crash. First, collision coverage will cover damage sustained by the insured’s car, regardless of who is at fault, including hit and run drivers. However, this type of insurance requires the insured to pay a deductible out of pocket and is more expensive than other types of insurance. In addition, a claim to the insurance company may affect the policy holder’s future insurance rate, regardless of who is at fault. A driver would need to take out an additional personal injury policy in order to be covered for medical expenses in the event of a hit and run accident.
Insurance companies in California are also required to offer uninsured motorists coverage. This type of insurance covers the medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering of policy holders who suffer injuries as a result of an accident with an uninsured driver, including hit and run motorists. Additionally, drivers may choose to carry uninsured motorist property damage coverage for damage to their car. Uninsured motorist property damage insurance is advisable as 80% of hit and run accident involve only damage to vehicles. There is no deductible for this type of coverage, however there may be limits placed on the amount paid out.
If you are the victim of a hit and run accident, whether the driver is identifiable or not, it is recommended that you file a police report. You may have to complete a walk-in report at the police department, as some patrols will respond to the accident site, especially if the accident occurred on private property like a grocery store parking lot. A police report is important documentation of your claim and may be required to pursue a claim with your insurance company if you do have collision or uninsured motorists insurance.
If the hit and run driver is identified (for instance, by license plate number) the victim of the accident may file a civil lawsuit for damages against the driver and their insurance company if they carry insurance. The victim’s insurance company may have a lien on any damages awarded to the victim for money it previously paid out to the victim, called the right of subrogation. In any case, the victim may be able to recover out of pocket expenses not covered by insurance and for pain and suffering. Injury victims in California who want to bring a civil action against a hit and run driver should consult a California accident attorney for information on their rights and possible outcomes of a suit.
Greg Brod is an experienced personal injury lawyer practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area and surrounding regions.
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