When a driver hits and damages another vehicle and leaves the scene, this is defined as a “hit-and-run” or “leaving the scene” accident and is against the law.
If your car were hit by a person who left the scene, your collision coverage would pay for repairs. Uninsured motorist only covers incidents in which the other driver is both identified and is also uninsured. Most uninsured motorist coverage is for injuries, anyway.
If a driver hits a parked car and takes off without leaving their contact information, this is also considered a hit-and-run.
For example, the California DMV notes that if you hit a vehicle, you are legally required to try and find the owner if he or she is not present. If you are unable to find the owner or driver of the car you hit, then you have to leave behind, in a conspicuous place, a note with your name, address, and an explanation of the accident. If you are driving someone else’s car when you strike another person’s vehicle or property, then you are also required to leave in the note the name and address of the person who owns the vehicle you were driving at the time of the accident.
California also requires a driver that is in this type of accident to notify the local police by phone or in person as soon as possible after the incident. Many other states have similar laws. There are normally laws or statutes in the state or country where the accident occurs that outline the requirements of those involved in a hit-and-run accident. A local police officer or your Department of Motor Vehicles should be able to advise you on your specific state’s laws and what to do in event of a hit and run, whether you are the driver that did the damage or the one that sustained damage.
Drivers should stop if they are involved in an accident, whether the at-fault driver or not, and exchange the following information:
- Driver name, address, and phone number
- Driver license number
- VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)
- Insurance provider’s name and claims contact information
- Insurance policy number
Penalties for hit-and-run charges vary, depending on the extent of the damage and the driver’s criminal driving history.
Misdemeanors are the most common hit-and-run charges and result from minimal property damage with no physical injuries. Typical hit-and-run misdemeanor penalties carry six months in jail, fines, and victim restitution.
Felonies result when the hit-and-run incident causes serious bodily injury or death. Hit-and-run felony penalties may include several years in prison, thousands of dollars in fines, DMV points, and license suspension.
For example, in California, a hit-and-run is considered a misdemeanor and can be punishable by up to one year in jail and/or fines of up to $1000 plus expensive court costs. The penalties are even harsher in most states if anyone is injured. In Wisconsin, fleeing the scene of an accident that includes injuries can carry a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison term of 42 months.
Hit-and-run accident reports
The accident or crash report for a hit-and-run accident is similar to a regular accident report.
Police reports differ by state and sometimes even by county or local jurisdiction so there is no one approved accident report or hit-and-run report. In general, an accident report lists the relevant and important information about the driver(s) and the incident. An accident report usually includes personal and insurance information of the driver(s) involved in an accident, the driver’s description of the accident and any witness information and their accident description. It then lists if anyone was injured and what property damage was sustained by each vehicle. A diagram of the car and the accident scene normally also will be on the report. There may be an extra area for the officer to fill out if it was a hit-and-run, or it may just be a box for him or her to check.
If police cannot come to the scene of the accident, or in some cases, certain jurisdictions choose not to come to a minor parking lot accident, then a driver report of the accident may need to be filled out. States such as California and Wisconsin have these forms online at their DMV and DOT websites, respectively.
The crash report is needed to document the event since there is the possibility of criminal charges being filed if the person who left the scene is found. The report is also helpful to have and turn in to your insurance company as proof that the incident occurred in the manner you described to your claims adjuster.
— Michelle Megna contributed to this story.