Having a “regular” accident is itself a shock. I’ve had several myself where other, inattentive drivers ran red lights and drove in the dark without having their lights on. It happens all so fast. There is the screeching of tires and the horrifying crunch of metal. Airbags deploy in an instant, and the smoke from their deployment may have filled the interior of your car, SUV or truck. All of that occurs before the adrenaline wears off and you are able to access whether you or your loved ones have injuries from the wreck.
Those initial seconds of an accident are bad enough, but some accident and wreck victims have the additional insult of having the at-fault driver flee or attempt to flee the scene of the accident. These are the so-called hit and run drivers. That should make anyone’s blood boil. As I can attest from experience of over twenty years handling car, SUV, motorcycle and truck accident claims, in most of these cases either you or a good Samaritan are able to track down and get the fleeing motorist’s tag number.
You, and the at-fault driver, are required by Georgia law to stay at the scene of an accident. Hit and run and fleeing the scene of an accident is a crime. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-270. The punishment for this crime depends on the severity of the injury. For example, wrongful death, paralysis, broken bones, serious internal injuries and the like may be a Felony. For minor injuries such as soft-tissue injuries, bruises and those only requiring chiropractic care, hit and run is more likely a misdemeanor. Those are the criminal penalties, which are handled by the State of Georgia. But drivers who flee the scene of an accident / hit and run drivers may also be punished in your civil case by the imposition of punitive damages, entitling you to even more money damages. These damages aren’t meant to compensate you for your medical expenses, lost wages or pain and suffering, but punitive damages are still recoverable by you to punish the hit and run driver.
So what if neither you nor anyone else finds the driver? Are you out of luck? Most likely, no. That is what Uninsured Motorist ("UM") Coverage is for. Most automobile policies in this state are issued with Uninsured Motorist Coverage. To qualify for coverage, there must have been physical contact, i.e., damage, to your vehicle or you must have at least one other corroborating witness if there was no contact. For example, if someone cuts you off, and you have someone else in your car (or a bystander) who saw it, then you can claim the accident under your UM coverage. This is why you should talk to a lawyer to see if your accident qualifies for coverage.
A lot of clients have qualms about using UM coverage, thinking their insurance rates may go up if they use it. But you paid premiums all these years! Use it if you need it. I have yet to have a client inform me that his or her insurance rate went up because they used UM coverage. And -- worst case scenario -- even if it did, that is why we have an open free-market automobile insurance marketplace.
Kenneth Crawford is a lawyer practicing in Douglasville, Villa Rica, Carrollton Hiram, West Cobb, Marietta and Atlanta. He handles car accidents, truck wrecks, tractor-trailer accidents, dog bites, products liability and other personal injury cases. Contact us for a free consultation today!