Georgia Hit and Run Accidents
The shock of a car accident is frightening enough, but it becomes worse when the other driver flees the scene.
Compared to other states, Georgia is 4th in the number of hit-and-run accidents. The cause for Georgia’s high hit and run status may be because walking and bicycling are very popular in Georgia. In many bicycle and pedestrian accidents, either the at-fault motorist did not realize there was a collision or shamefully took the opportunity to flee since no one was around to witness the incident.
60% of hit-and-run accidents that are fatal accidents involve pedestrians and bicyclists. There are several reasons why drivers flee the scene of an accident:
- The driver was uninsured
- The driver was driving with a suspended license or no license
- The vehicle was stolen
- The driver was an undocumented immigrant
- The driver was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
- Fear of criminal prosecution
Obligations of Drivers
Under Georgia law, all drivers involved in an accident must stop at the scene and exchange information with the other driver. Drivers should exchange their driver’s license, registration, and insurance information. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-270. This statute also requires the other driver to render aid and assistance to injured parties such as calling for medical help or even transporting the injured person to a medical facility. If the victim was killed or seriously injured, the party’s failure to stop and comply with the statute is considered a felony.
Any injury accident must be reported to law enforcement as well as to your own auto liability carrier as soon as possible, especially in a hit-and-run situation. If there were witnesses to the accident, obtain their contact information. Even if you or the witnesses can only provide a partial identification of the car’s make and model or some letters or numbers of the license plate, this may be enough for law enforcement to track down the vehicle.
Proof of Other Involved Vehicle
You must also prove to your own insurer that another vehicle was involved, that its driver is unknown, and that that driver was the cause of the accident if you want to make a proper uninsured motorist claim. O.C.G.A. § 33-7-11(b)(2).
If it was your vehicle that was struck, you will have to show that the other vehicle made physical contact with your car, which you can prove through the property damage. If there was no physical contact but you allege that the other driver’s erratic or unsafe driving caused you to lose control or to swerve and crash, you will need corroborating testimony from a credible witness who can state that the unknown driver’s negligent driving was the cause of your accident.
If you are an injured victim of a hit-and-run, here are some things you can do that can help your claim:
- Call 911.
- As soon as you can, write down as much as you recall about the other driver such as gender, age, facial characteristics, weight, or any other identifying characteristics, and details about the vehicle that hit you including any portion of the license plate, color of the car, and its make and model.
- If there were witnesses, be sure to obtain their contact information and ask that they give it to police.
- Take photographs of the property damage to your car, of the location where it came to rest, and your injuries.
- Give police as much information as you can.
- Promptly get medical care and do not refuse care by EMTs as you want to have your injuries documented and confirmed.
Police can often locate the vehicle that fled the scene by canvassing the nearby neighborhood or alerting people to call them if they notice a neighbor’s vehicle with fresh property damage. If the victim was seriously injured or killed, there are occasions when the offender comes forward to accept responsibility or at least to try and minimize his or her liability.
Compensation in Hit-and-Run Accidents
If you are fortunate enough to get enough information on the vehicle that struck you and police are able to locate the driver, you can pursue compensation by making a claim against that driver’s auto liability policy. Although you do have to prove that the driver caused your accident, the motorist could be found criminally liable for fleeing the scene. If so, the law would find him negligent per se, or negligent as a matter of law so that the offender is presumed negligent. This would likely make it easier for you to collect compensation.
If the responsible motorist had low policy limits, such as $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident, you can collect more compensation from your own policy so long as you possess underinsured coverage (UIM). If your UIM policy is a “reduced” policy then you can still collect insurance from your carrier but the amount you can recover is reduced by what is available from the negligent driver’s liability insurance policy. For instance, if the other party’s policy limits are $25,000 and your UIM is a reduced policy with $100,000, you can recover up to $75,000 from your own policy once the other party’s limits are exhausted. If your UIM policy is an “added-on” policy then the amount you can collect from your carrier is added to what you received from the negligent driver. For instance, if the other party’s policy limits are $25,000 and your UIM is an added-on policy with $100,000, you can recover the full $100,000 from your own policy once the other party’s limits are exhausted.
If the vehicle and its driver/owner cannot be located, then you can look to your own auto liability policy for compensation if you possess uninsured motorist (UM) coverage.
Also, if you were a pedestrian or bicyclist, you can still pursue your UIM policy. Your UIM coverage covers you whether you were in your car, walking or riding a bicycle. Finally, if you were living with a family member at the time of the accident, you can pursue your family member’s UIM policy as well.
UM claims are similar in all respects to a typical claim against the at-fault driver except that your own insurer is now your adversary.
Damages in Hit-and-Run Accidents
As a victim of a hit-and-run accident, whether it is against the responsible driver or an uninsured claim, you are entitled to recover compensation for your damages. Damages include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income losses
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Disfigurement like scarring
- Mental anguish
- Possible Punitive damages
Punitive damages are only available if there are aggravating circumstances. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(a). Punitive damages requires proof by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s conduct was wanton, malicious, fraudulent, or exhibited a complete indifference to the health and safety of others. Fleeing the scene of a fatal accident will give rise to punitive damages if it was apparent to an ordinary person that an accident had taken place and someone was injured.