Even minor car accidents can cause debilitating injuries that require intensive medical treatment and weeks…
Hundreds of Georgia residents are involved in car accidents daily, but not all remain at the scene. People flee accident scenes for many reasons, and few are ever caught. The police only track down about 10% of the motorists who flee accident scenes, which means nine out of 10 hit-and-run drivers do not face any consequences.
Most people assume that recovering compensation is all but impossible when negligent motorists flee accident scenes, but that is rarely true. Nathan Fitzpatrick is an experienced car accident attorney who advocates for hit-and-run accident victims. In this article, he explains how to file a car accident claim following an accident involving a hit-and-run incident. He will also discuss the steps involved in settling a hit-and-run case.
Understanding Hit-and-Run Accidents
A motor vehicle collision becomes a hit-and-run accident when one or more of the drivers involved leave the scene. Georgia statute O.C.G.A 40-6-270 states that road users must remain at the scene when they are involved in accidents that cause death, injury, or vehicle damage. Fleeing the scene in these cases is considered a serious offense in the Peach State, and the penalties for doing it can be severe.
In addition to remaining at the scene, a motorist involved in an accident in Georgia must:
- Provide their name, address, and vehicle registration number
- Provide their driver’s license
- Render reasonable assistance to individuals injured in the accident
- Make every reasonable effort to contact law enforcement and emergency medical services
- Not obstruct traffic more than necessary
Motorists who flee the scene of accidents that cause death or serious injury face felony charges if they are apprehended. If they are convicted, they can be sent to prison for up to five years.
Leaving the scene of an accident that caused minor injuries or property damage is a misdemeanor offense in Georgia that is punishable by a fine of between $300 and $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to 12 months.
Common Reasons for Hit-and-Run Incidents
There are many reasons for people to run after they've hit people or property. Anything from a driver not paying attention to rainy or dark conditions cutting down on visibility is often behind these collisions.
On the other hand, drivers often flee accident scenes because they fear the police. They may be driving a stolen car or have open warrants, or they may opt for flight because they are intoxicated and want to avoid drunk driving charges. Others may be without insurance or a valid license
Fleeing the scene of an accident is sometimes an impulsive step that is taken in a moment of panic. People who flee accident scenes, even though they have nothing to fear from law enforcement, act the way they do because they are overwhelmed and cannot process what just happened to them. These hit-and-run drivers often step forward once they have calmed down. Drunk drivers that hit and flee the scene may also step forward after a few days have passed and their blood no longer contains alcohol.
Hit-and-run cases are not usually a priority for law enforcement, but investigations can be intensive when police search for an individual who caused death or serious injury.
What Damages Can You Be Awarded for a Hit-and-Run Car Accident
Road users injured in hit-and-run car accidents can often recover compensation even when the negligent individuals who injure them are never identified. This is because most auto insurance policies include uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. This coverage compensates policyholders and their passengers for the injury, loss, or damage they suffer in accidents caused by uninsured or underinsured drivers.
Most vehicle owners buy this coverage because one in eight American drivers is uninsured. Uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance covers medical bills, lost wages, and accident-related expenses like funeral costs. The costs of repairing a vehicle damaged in a hit-and-run incident are covered by collision insurance.
When the police can identify hit-and-run drivers, accident victims are given another opportunity to pursue compensation. If the responsible driver is indigent and likely to be spending time behind bars, filing a lawsuit would not make much sense. However, many drivers who leave an accident scene have insurance and assets. When litigation is a viable option, victims of drivers who flee the scene may seek both compensatory and punitive damages.
If you file an insurance claim after a hit-and-run accident or sue a hit-and-run driver, the documents you provide to support your arguments could influence how much compensation you receive.
This is why it is important to maintain accurate records of your medical treatment and keep all of your hospital bills. It is also important to seek medical treatment right away. If treatment is delayed, the insurance company could claim that your injuries are not accident-related.
Victims of drivers who cause an accident and leave the scene are awarded economic damages to cover their out-of-pocket accident expenses. Economic damages are commonly awarded in hit-and-run car accident cases to compensate injured road users for their lost wages and property damage.
You will be asked to provide paystubs or income statements if you make a lost income claim, and your doctor may be asked about the nature of your injuries and how they affect your ability to work. If you submit a collision claim to cover the cost of repairing a vehicle damaged in a hit-and-run incident, your insurance company will likely want to perform an inspection before work begins.
Punitive damages are awarded in a personal injury lawsuit to punish the defendant and not compensate the plaintiff. Juries award these damages to punish the defendant for their negligent or malicious behavior and to deter others from acting in the same way.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in personal injury lawsuits because most civil litigation is based on the tort of negligence, but hit-and-run drivers may be ordered to pay them. The collisions hit-and-run drivers are involved in accidents, but fleeing the scene is an intentional act that breaks state law.
Insurance companies may compensate accident victims for their medical costs and economic damages, but only a court can order an individual to pay punitive damages.
What Amount of Financial Compensation Can You Expect for Your Car Collision?
As per the Insurance Information Institute, the average settlement for a personal injury car accident claim resulting from a car accident was $18,417 in 2019. Concurrently, the typical settlement for property damage resulting from a car accident stood at $4,525 during that year.
Nevertheless, the sum an individual injured in an accident is granted depends significantly on discussions held between the injured party's lawyer and the insurance firm, along with any other relevant factors.
The Role of a Car Accident Lawyer in a Hit-and-Run Accident in Georgia
Dealing with claims adjusters and an insurance company's rules and procedures can be a bewildering experience for people who do not handle financial matters on a regular basis. Insurance adjusters are experienced professionals who have been trained to save their employers as much money as possible, which is why many people hire personal injury attorneys to negotiate car accident settlements on their behalf.
If you are the victim of a hit-and-run incident, you can file a claim with your own insurance company. Also, a skilled car accident lawyer could help you by:
- Handling paperwork: An attorney could ensure that all insurance claims paperwork is completed properly and submitted in a timely manner.
- Finding supporting evidence: Claims for compensation should be backed up by documents like hospital bills and paystubs. An attorney could help you to gather this supporting evidence.
- Providing advice: People who are not used to dealing with insurance companies sometimes make simple mistakes that can delay the claims process or reduce the amount of compensation they receive. An experienced attorney could point out these pitfalls and help you to avoid them.
- Negotiating on your behalf: Successful attorneys are capable negotiators who have an ethical duty to seek the best possible outcomes for their clients.
How A Car Accident Lawyer Can Assist in Hit and Run Cases
A skilled car accident lawyer may also be able to help the police identify the at-fault driver in a hit-and-run car accident. As mentioned, hit-and-run accidents are rarely investigated thoroughly unless road users are killed or seriously injured, which means basic steps like canvassing the area for witnesses or checking nearby homes or businesses for security cameras are not always taken.
When police investigations into a hit-and-run car accident are perfunctory, an attorney could send investigators to the scene to look for evidence that law enforcement may have missed.
If the at-fault driver is identified, an attorney could consider the facts to determine whether or not filing a lawsuit against them would be prudent. Establishing liability based on the preponderance of the evidence would likely be fairly straightforward in a hit-and-run case, but taking legal action only makes sense if the defendant has resources and is able to pay damages.
Determining Hit and Run Compensation Amount
Insurance companies use formulas to calculate car accident settlement offers. Figuring out how much to offer a car accident victim to compensate them for neck, back, and soft tissue injuries is usually a fairly simple process, but determining the appropriate damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering can be more difficult.
In these situations, insurance companies either multiply the economic damages by a given value or calculate a per diem amount based on the level of discomfort the victim endured.
What Factors Go Into Setting The Value of Georgia Car Accident Cases?
Every motor vehicle collision is different, which is why insurance adjusters and juries study the facts before determining appropriate compensation in car accident cases. Factors that could influence your financial recovery include:
- The severity of your injuries: You will receive more compensation if your injuries are serious, prevent you from working and earning a living, and are likely to be permanent.
- Your degree of fault: Georgia follows the modified comparative negligence doctrine in personal injury cases. This means that you can recover damages even if you are partly to blame for causing an accident, but the amount you receive will be adjusted to reflect your degree of fault. Insurance companies know this, so they reduce settlement offers when claims are submitted by people who appear to have acted negligently.
- Your preexisting medical conditions: Car accident injuries are sometimes made more debilitating by preexisting conditions. If you file an insurance claim, you can expect to be questioned about any medical conditions you have and any prescription drugs you are taking.
- Your actions following the accident: One of the biggest mistakes that car accident victims make is not seeking medical treatment immediately. If treatment is delayed, insurers may claim that your injuries are not accident-related and not compensate you for things such as your mounting legal and medical bills.
Factors Affecting Hit-and-run Compensation
Hit-and-run car accident victims do not always receive all the compensation they are entitled to. This is because negligent parties who flee accident scenes cannot be sued by the people they injure.
A hit-and-run car accident victim may be able to submit an insurance claim, but they cannot file a personal injury lawsuit unless the at-fault driver is identified.
When hit-and-run drivers remain at large, uninsured and underinsured coverage limits will place a cap on how much compensation accident victims can recover. This is why it is a good idea to select uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage that matches an auto policy’s bodily injury limits.
Georgia requires motorists to carry bodily injury liability coverage of at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, but most drivers choose higher limits.
Car Accident Settlement Process
The car accident settlement process begins when a claim is filed and ends when an offer is accepted and compensation is paid. If the case is complex and the injuries suffered by an accident victim are serious, the process can drag on for weeks or even months.
Time Limitations and Legalities
Insurance companies and the courts impose time limits on car accident victims who wish to pursue compensation. Insurers all have their own rules for submitting claims, but they do not always provide a strict time limit. Instead, auto policies may state that claims must be submitted “promptly” or within a “reasonable amount of time.”
The time limit for filing a personal injury claim is set by Georgia’s statute of limitations. Civil plaintiffs usually have two years to file personal injury lawsuits, but hit-and-run victims are given more time. This is because the statute of limitations is paused or tolled when the defendant is a fugitive. This means that the two-year time limit for filing a civil lawsuit does not begin in a hit-and-run case until the at-fault driver is identified.
Seeking Fair Compensation
If you are injured in a hit-and-run incident, you deserve to be fairly compensated for your medical bills, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering. However, you will only receive fair compensation if you are able to hold your own in negotiations with an experienced and skilled insurance adjuster.
Pursuing this approach is not easy because insurance companies deal with thousands of claims every year and use tactics and strategies that have been designed to give them an advantage.
Challenges Faced When Dealing with Insurance Companies
Car accident settlements cost insurance companies millions of dollars each year. To keep their costs down and ensure that they only pay compensation for accident-related injuries and losses, insurers employ experienced negotiators who follow strategies that have been developed over decades. The goal of these strategies is to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt in accident victims.
Insurance negotiators may approach a hit-and-run case with skepticism because it is not unheard of for drivers who lose control of their cars to claim that an unidentified party caused them to crash. If all of the broken glass and other debris at an accident scene is from only one vehicle, this could be a difficult suspicion to overcome.
Tips for Handling Insurance Company Negotiations
Most car accident cases are settled fairly quickly, but negotiations become more contentious when the figures being discussed are significant. In these situations, insurance companies may ask unimportant questions, request unnecessary documents, or make extremely low initial offers to prolong discussions and frustrate accident victims.
These companies do this because frustrated or desperate people tend to make rash decisions. The best way to deal with these delaying tactics is to hire a skilled negotiator who is familiar with the ways insurance companies do business.
When insurance companies deal with experienced personal injury attorneys, they know that the people sitting on the other side of the negotiating table understand the law and have a good idea of how much their clients are entitled to. When there is respect on both sides, negotiations are usually wrapped up more quickly.
Seeking Compensation For a Hit and Run Accident? Contact An Experienced Car Accident Attorney at the Fitzpatrick Firm Today
If you are injured in a hit-and-run car accident and want to receive adequate compensation for your injury, loss or damage, you should not go into settlement negotiations without an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.
The Fitzpatrick Firm has handled hundreds of personal injury cases and secured millions of dollars in car accident settlements, and we always put our client’s interests first when we sit down at the negotiating table.
If you would like to discuss your case and legal options, you can set up a free initial consultation by calling the Fitzpatrick Firm at (678) 607-5550 or filling out the form below.