Hit-and-Run Accidents: What to Do
Print out this page and put it in your glove compartment. If you're in a hit and run incident, the guidelines below can help you through it. Click here [WHN hot link TK] for a form to complete with as much information as possible.
WHN Tip: Accident Report
Local law enforcement officers may not respond to the accident unless there are injuries. In lieu of an accident/police report, file a state vehicle accident report at a local police station or your state's Department of Motor Vehicles Web site. A police report often helps insurance companies speed up the claims process. Legally you may only have a certain time frame in which to file the report - check with your local police department.
Click here [WHN hot link TK] for more helpful forms related to this topic and keep a copy of this page in your glove compartment.
What To Do Immediately
Be safe, be smart.
If you're driving, stop your vehicle if it is clear, safe and legal and turn off the ignition. Pull over to the side of the road, if possible.
WHN Tip: Be Safe, Be Smart
Do not chase the other vehicle. It could be very dangerous since you don't know why they sped off.
Check for injuries to yourself and other passengers.
Write down a quick summary of what happened: details about the other car (make, model, license plate number), direction the car went in (if known) and so on. Also, write down the date, time and your location. You'll need this for records and to call 911.
WHN Tip: Don't know where you are? Look for road signs, landmarks, mile markers, exit numbers and so on that will be helpful for the dispatcher.
Report it immediately. Call 9-1-1 (or the police if 9-1-1 service is not an option) immediately. Provide the exact location (look at street signs, landmarks), number of vehicles and people involved and any details about injuries to anyone.
DO NOT leave the scene.
No cell phone? Ask a witness to make the call and provide you with his contact information in case it's needed later.
Think someone needs medical help right away? Tell the 911 operator what's happening and take advice from them.
Leave as much of the scene intact as possible.
Turn on hazard lights or use flares and other warning signs to alert other drivers to the accident.
Get your license, insurance information and registration ready, if you can.
Ask witnesses to remain on the scene until the police arrive. Write down their name, phone and e-mail address.
Witness #1 /Name/Phone/E-mail
Witness #2 /Name/Phone/E-mail
Witness #3 /Name/Phone/E-mail
Witness #4 /Name/Phone/E-mail
Document the Accident Visually
WHN Tip: Remember to turn on the "date/time" feature on your camera before snapping shots. Continue to take photographs throughout this process.
- If you have a camera/camera phone/PDA in your car and it is accessible, begin taking pictures of the accident site before your vehicle is moved (vehicles and any property they may have damaged, etc.).
- Use a camera or camera phone to take photos that show the overall context of the accident. (Borrow one if necessary or ask the owner to take pictures, and get his contact information so you can obtain copies.) Alternatively, sketch the accident site.
- Include streets, traffic signs, obstacles in the road—anything that provides details of the accident—as well as landmarks that identify where you stopped.
- Show all directions of travel and lane directions (one ways, etc.)
- Photograph your vehicle from several angles to document the damage. Don't take the time to consider noteworthiness. You may not be able to see the importance of, a broken tail light for instance, but it could help a professional reconstruct the accident
- Any other important details that you think might be of use to you or the insurance company.
WHN Expert Tip: Go Digital
A digital camera is the most accurate as it has the date on its photos and documents when they were taken. A photo can also show the weather and possibly road conditions as well as if the accident took place during the day or nighttime hours. This would be relevant if any of these factored into the cause of the accident.
"A traditional camera is still good to use as it can show the exact location of the accident as well as the other factors mentioned above." Dave Mannato, Matador Insurance Agency, Latham, NY
"Keep copies [of your photos] for your records," says Mannato. "You may need them should some get lost, to show to a lawyer [or an insurance agent] or if the case goes to trial one day."
Check out the damage on your car. Look for any signs of paint, broken glass or car body parts near your own car. These could be valuable clues for the police.
When The Police Arrive
WHN Tip: Be Patient
Depending on the amount of damage involved, the police may take a while to respond to the scene or they may not report to the scene at all. Other cases might be of higher priority than yours at the moment.
Provide the police with as much information about the hit-and-run incident as you can:
- Describe what happened, where you were, what time and so forth.
- Describe as much as possible about the other car:
- License plate number (even if it's the first or last 3 numbers/letters—that could help)
- Direction of travel after the incident
- Type of car (truck, van, sedan, convertible, etc.)
- Make, model and color of the car
- 4 door vs. 2 door
- Any detailing, unusual markings
- Any missing parts, cracks or dents
- If there were white letters on the tires or colored hubcaps
- Any other useful information
Describe the driver and occupants (how many were there, male or female, etc.).
Write down the police officers' and emergency workers' contact details (Some officers carry business cards):
- Police Officer Name/Badge Number
- Police Officer Name/Badge Number
- Paramedic Name/Badge Number
On-Site Medical Treatment
An ambulance on the scene: emergency personnel will need to check for neck pain, shoulder pain from the seat belt, and chest pain from the airbags. Allow yourself to be examined, even if you think you're okay. Injuries may be undetectable to you right now. But should your condition change, refusal of treatment at the scene may be taken as evidence that the accident is not to blame for your pain. It is normal for pain to appear 1 to 2 days after an accident.
If you are taken to the hospital: If possible, give your treating physician information about the accident as it relates to your injuries. Describe in detail all pain and discomfort, as well as your ability or inability to use injured area(s). Even minor physical problems should be mentioned; they may develop into serious injuries.
If an ambulance arrives, but medical personnel decide not to take you to the hospital; make an appointment to have your doctor perform a thorough examination as soon after the accident as possible. Ask your doctor to write a letter to your insurance company explaining the findings of your examination and prescribing further care.
No ambulance on the scene: Immediately seek medical examination on your own, even if you think you're okay. Professionals may detect injuries or health problems you cannot. It is normal for pain to appear 1 to 2 days after an accident.
If You Need a Tow Truck
If your car looks to be inoperable or needs repairs, contact a towing service. Tell dispatcher where you are and where the car should be towed and ask for the cost.
When the tow truck driver arrives, get the following information:
- Name of company, driver, company address and telephone
- Tow truck license plate number
WHN Tip: Tow Truck
Don't know the name of the tow truck company or where your car was towed? The city or the police might work with certain companies - give the department a call to find out how to track down this information.
When You Get Home
WHN Tip: The Accident File
When you get home, make an "accident file." This will include all of your notes, contact information, messages, etc. This can be an envelope, file folder, binder—whatever works best for you.
At home, write down exactly what happened. This will include all of the information you and witnesses gathered and the names and contact numbers of the people you spoke with. File this in your accident file.
Keep a copy of everything. Police, lawyers and insurance companies may request copies (don't give away your last copy!).
Consider another mode of transportation until your car has been repaired or you get a new car. (Some insurance policies include car rental fees, see next section.)
After the Accident: Keep an Injury Diary
After the accident you may be injured or experience some pain a few days after the accident.
Keeping an injury diary might be useful for insurance and legal purposes - ask your insurance agent or lawyer for further advice on how to keep an accurate account of your recovery.
WHN Reader Tip: Write EVERYTHING Down
"One lesson is to keep a diary after the accident. You should be documenting everything that you are going through day by day. I included everything - how I was feeling, doctor visit notes, time taken off from work." Kim L., Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Your diary should include
- Information and description of your injuries.
- A pain scale (with 0 being no pain and 10 being excruciating pain). Rate your injuries on a daily/hourly basis.
- How your injuries affect your daily routine: your ability to work (job performance), attend/participate in social and family events, household duties, sleep and eating patterns.
- Consider taking photographs of your injuries. Photos can help your claim and your case.
- Request a copy of the official police report for your medical records.
WHN Tip: Date every entry you make. If you make several entries in a day, include the time of the entry.
See your physician for an examination.
WHN Tip: Make an Injury Sub-Folder
Have your doctor and any other medical professional treating you for accident-related injuries to start a personal injury sub-folder for you. Review it for accuracy.
Provide details about the accident: what happened and how you felt afterwards (even minor physical problems).
At each visit, bring your accident file, injury diary and Medical Appointment Tracking Form [WHN hot link TK] to track each appointment and your progress. Complete the form and add it to your accident file.
WHN Tip: Read the article Medical Treatment After an Accident for some helpful tips on what type of care to expect on the scene of the accident and how to manage doctor visits after the accident.
Read our Your Doctor Visit and Your Hospital Stay for more health and hospital tips.
Note recovery efforts as well, including time spent in physical therapy or other treatment.
Carry out your doctor's orders.
Document each visit in your "Injury Diary" and save copies of all notes and paperwork from your doctor in a single 'accident' folder.
If appropriate, ask your doctor to write a letter to your insurance company explaining the findings of your examination and prescribing further care.
WHN Tip: No Skipping Appointments
Don't skip treatments or other medical appointments. This could be used as proof that you weren't really injured. If you are tired or in pain, it's okay to ask for help getting to your appointment.
Following the Accident
If your accident happened close to home, pay attention to the cars in your area. If you notice a car with damage that might match up with your own car, write down the license plate number of that car and give the police a call.
A few days after the incident, contact the police department to check on the status of your case, if they reported to the scene. Be sure to have your case number ready.
Speak with the detective who is assigned to your case. Provide him with your name, your case number and date of the incident.
Ask the detective about the status of your case. If it's open, ask if there are any possible suspects. Ask about the suspect's physical details or vehicle info.
Also ask if there is anything else that you can provide that could help the investigation.
Request a copy of the official police report for your records, if you haven't already done so.
Remember, the police will do their best to follow up on the case. However, it may not be possible to track down the other driver or car. Be patient.
Insurance Claims Process
- Call your car insurance agent immediately after the accident, call (or have a family member or friend call) your insurance agent. Do this as soon as possible even if you're far from home and even if someone else caused the accident.
- Provide the following: Your car insurance policy number, Your police case number, Your accident file with detailed information about the accident, the address of the location of your car (body shop, tow truck company, home, work, etc.)
- Ask your agent how to proceed and what forms or documents will be needed to support your claim. The insurance company may require a "proof of loss" form, as well as documents relating to your claim, such as medical and car repair bills/receipts and a copy of the police report or other details from the authorities.
- Ask your agent if your policy covers the cost of a rental car while your car is being repaired. If so, ask the allowed time of the car rental (days, weeks, etc.) and what rental car agencies will be compatible with your policy coverage.
- Arrange for an adjuster to view your car and assess the damage:
Name of insurance representative
- Ask where you should take your vehicle for damage estimate and if the policy covers a rental vehicle.
- Read your insurance policy, checking for specifics on coverage. The insurance process will be easier to navigate if you know the details of your coverage.
- Document every action you take and call you make. Details includes: Date and time of the phone call, Whom you called or who called you (insurance agent, mechanic, police officers, doctor, attorney, etc). Full name of the person you spoke with , List of the items and decisions discussed , Next steps, deadline for completion and who is responsible for each step, Your claim number.
- Keep records of the expenses you incur: medical and hospital expenses, lost wages and at least part of your costs if you have to hire a temporary housekeeper. You may be reimbursed under your policy—ask your insurance agent regarding specifics.
- Regardless of policy coverage — keep records of your expenses.
WHN Tip: Read our After an Accident: Insurance Claims article for top tips on what to expect and how to manage through the claims process.
Do not have your car repaired until you have an attorney or representative from your insurance agency inspect the car. Confirm next steps with your insurance agency.
Get an estimate for full repairs and replacement of all damage from the repair shop recommended by your insurance company. You may also get your own estimate, but your insurance company must approve it. You're entitled to have your car restored to full glory, not just patched up.
Keep the receipts and bids.
All of this information should be recorded in your file.
WHN Tip: What's "Totaled"?
If the total cost to repair your car exceeds a certain percentage of the insurance company's estimates of its worth, you car is considered a total loss or "totaled." Instead of covering the cost of repairs, the insurance company will pay you the car's actual cash value, minus any deductible you have with your coverage.
With no insurance, repairing your car is up to you.If you retain an attorney, do not have your car repaired until the attorney inspects the car. Confirm next steps with your attorney.
- Take pictures of the damage.
- Get an estimate for full repairs and replacement of all damage, etc. from the repair shop you choose, or that you and your attorney agree upon.
- Keep the receipts.
- All of this information and process should be recorded in your file.
- Read After an Accident: Insurance Claims for possible options that may be available. (Each state has different rules about car insurance. Click here for a list of state requirements from Findlaw.)
- Consider hiring a lawyer if needed.
WHN Tip: Public Transportation
If there is a public transit system in your area and you're new to the bus/train system, call their customer service line. Operators are trained to address the questions and concerns of first-time riders.
WHN TIP: Just in Case!
Print this article out and place it in the car, so you will have it with you next time you drive.
The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal or medical advice. These tips are from first responders, lawyers, insurance agents and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a doctor or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal or health-related decisions.
Thank you ...
A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.
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