Understand how car insurance works when it comes to a hit-and-run accidents
An accident turns into a hit and run the moment someone drives away without leaving their details.
A hit-and-run accident is the term given to a situation where a vehicle hits an object or person, and the driver leaves the scene without stopping and giving assistance and without fulfilling their legal obligations.
Because a hit and run is a complicated accident that can affect your car insurance premiums and claims, it’s important to understand your options and follow the right steps to getting back on the road.
Note: This guide is intended to provide an overview of available options only. It is not advocating any particular course of action, it is not a substitute for legal advice and is not necessarily accurate for all insurers.
Is it illegal to commit a hit and run?
A hit and run is an illegal act, even if it doesn’t involve another person. Even hitting a parked car or any other type of property and then leaving the scene is considered a crime. The requirements are that the driver must at least stop and leave a note with insurance and contact details, and sometimes call for emergency services when needed.
Hitting a person then fleeing the scene is a much more serious offence, especially if a person was struck hard enough that you would reasonably assume they were badly injured or even killed.
Every state handles hit-and-run accidents differently, considering the incident a traffic infraction, misdemeanor or felony depending on the damage to other people or property. Punishment can include fines, imprisonment and temporary or permanent cancellation of the driver’s license.
How car insurance covers hit-and-run accidents
Insurance companies can also punish these drivers by raising insurance costs or canceling their policies. Whether car insurance covers a hit and run naturally depends on whether you are the culprit or the victim, and the situation.
If you commit a hit and run
If you are to blame, you won’t be able to claim from your car insurance. By driving away, you turn an accident into a crime, which your insurance won’t cover.
If your car is damaged in a hit and run
If you go out and find your car has been sideswiped or dented, it’s possible you will be covered. You generally need to have comprehensive coverage or collission coverage to successfully make a claim. Comprehensive coverage helps with damage to your car from a wide range of sources, including other drivers and car accidents. Collision coverage helps pay to repair your vehicle if you hit another car or another vehicle hits your car, regardless of fault and whether the other driver is found.
If you have coverage for uninsured motorists, this might cover claims for a hit and run, but you’ll need to check with your provider based on your state laws and exact coverage.
In order to be found not at fault, you generally need to be able to indicate who caused the damage, and provide details of their registration and address. Naturally this is difficult to do if that person drove away after hitting your car.
One alternative is to avoid making a claim, and instead pursue the culprit through legal means. If they can be tracked down, they may be legally ordered to pay compensation for the damages. Even if you decide to go down this path, you should still let your insurer know what happened.
In short, if you can’t track down the driver who was at fault, then your only likely options are going to be one of the following:
- You pay for the repairs yourself.
- You make a claim on your comprehensive car insurance and pay any applicable deductible. This option could also result in your premiums being increased.
If you are able track down the guilty driver, then you can opt for one of the following options:
- Make a claim on your car insurance. In this instance, you may not have to pay any excess or be hit with increased premiums.
- Recover the cost of repairs from the other driver and avoid making a car insurance claim.
Did you know?
Will my basic car insurance cover a hit and run?
Basic liability insurance typically won’t cover damage to your car from a hit and run, except in one very specific situation: if you have uninsured driver coverage and the culprit was identified and found to be at fault for the accident and without third-party liability insurance. Because it can be difficult to find the driver and prove their guilt, this situation is pretty unlikely to occur.
What can I do if my property is damaged in a hit and run?
A crime has been committed, so you should call the police. This is also your best bet for identifying the culprit.
As property damage is not generally an emergency, it’s best to call your local police department’s non-emergency number instead of 911.
What should I do if my car is hit while parked?
To maximize your chances of getting claim coverage and finding the culprit, you should try to determine the extent of the damage, and document the incident as soon as possible.
- Note in writing the time when you discovered the damage. Keep a pen and notepad or other tools in your car for incidents like this.
- Note in writing any other details that may be relevant, such as whether you heard a loud crash in the night and what time it may have been.
- Take photos of the damage, both close up and further away. Clearly capture the extent and type of damage. Imagine asking a mechanic to give you a quote based on those photos alone; that’s the kind of detail you need.
Ideally try not to drive anywhere else that day. If you do, make sure all the damage is well documented before you drive off.
If you do drive your car and it handles strangely, or it seems there may be more than just a cosmetic problem, then park it somewhere safe as soon as reasonably possible. Driving your car after it has been hit could increase any damage caused by the initial accident. Any subsequent damage from driving the car won’t be covered by insurance and may invalidate your claim.
What happens if I am the culprit in a hit and run on a parked car?
You should contact a legal professional for advice.
What initially appeared to be a hit and run might actually be an accident on closer inspection. For example, if someone thought their car was damaged in a hit and run, but they later found a note that was left by the driver responsible, or if what appeared to be a dent from a car backing up in the parking lot turned out to be rust damage.
A good outcome would be if both you and the person whose car you hit pass the situation off your insurers.
Should I make a claim after a hit and run?
There are some pros and cons when it comes to making a claim for car damages caused by a hit and run.
When to avoid making a claim
- The damage is purely cosmetic and not worth the cost to fix.
- You don’t want to pay the deductible, or repairs will cost less than the deductible.
- You don’t want to run the risk of rising premiums.
When to consider making a claim
- The damage might get worse if it’s not repaired.
- Eventually you’ll miss your chance. Claims for subsequent damage are unlikely to cover future repairs, and there’s a statue of limitations on making any claim at all.
- That’s what car insurance is for, and it’s cheaper than paying for repairs out of your pocket.
Do I have to pay a deductible if I make a hit-and-run claim?
Any deductibles from a hit-and-run insurance claim depend on the accident and your coverage. With uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage, you could make a claim if you’re injured in a hit-and-run, and there’s typically no deductible to pay.
If your vehicle is damaged in a hit-and-run, your collision coverage would kick in after you pay out of pocket for your deductible. And if you make a claim that involves multiple kinds of coverage, including a claim for personal injury protection and collision coverage, you might have to pay multiple deductibles.
Being involved in a hit and run can be complex and confusing, especially if you’re facing significant damages. Document what happened thoroughly and talk to your car insurance provider about your options.