Hit-and-run accidents are a devastating, everyday reality across the United States, including Colorado. As 2020 official statistics show, the number of hit-and-run accidents resulting in fatalities reached a staggering 2,564 cases, indicating a notable surge of 26% compared to the preceding year. The same statistics also reveal that hit-and-run accidents account for approximately 7% of the overall fatalities recorded in our nation. Those that didn’t lead to death were often responsible for causing numerous non-fatal injuries and significant property damage .
Under our state’s legislation, hit and run is defined as leaving the scene of an accident without providing information and assistance to the other party involved . As one can imagine, such accidents can have severe legal consequences. These may involve criminal charges and civil lawsuits, depending on the particular circumstances of each case.
Regrettably, many drivers responsible for car accidents resulting in injuries, property damage, and even fatalities choose to flee the scene. Presumably, they do so to evade accountability rather than adhere to ethical and legal obligations and face the consequences of their actions. Whatever the reason, the tragic outcome is that victims are left in a state of uncertainty, grappling with the question of who will assume the financial burdens arising from their accident when the identity of the at-fault driver remains unknown.
If you or someone close to you has fallen victim to this, remember that you still have legal rights in cases of hit-and-run accidents. There may be avenues to pursue compensation for the losses you have suffered. To explore your options thoroughly, the best course of action would be to seek the guidance of a skilled car accident attorney with a proven track record in handling injury claims involving hit-and-run incidents within our state to help you throughout a challenging process.
Ross Ziev and his team at Legal Help in Colorado are regarded as one of Denver’s leading car crash attorneys. With our extensive experience, expertise, and unwavering dedication to assisting injury victims, we are here to provide you with all the support you need.
Legal Definition of a “Hit & Run”
As mentioned above, a hit-and-run accident is defined under applicable state law in Colorado (CRS § 42-4-1601) as a situation where a driver involved in an accident fails to stop at the scene of the accident or fails to provide their name, address, and registration number of their vehicle to the other parties involved in the accident.
More specifically, in the event of a traffic accident resulting in vehicle or personal damage, the law requires any driver involved to halt and remain at the scene of the accident immediately. They must then proceed to exchange essential details with all parties involved, as well as contact the police to report the incident and request their presence at the scene.
This last part is crucial as the law requires that drivers in Colorado report to the police any car accident that causes injury, death, or property damage . Police departments can determine their response to minor accidents where no apparent injuries occur. Even so, you should contact them regardless. It is even more important to do so in cases where a driver flees the scene, as involving the police is the primary means to ensure that officers investigate the accident and file an official police report.
Further to the above, drivers must provide reasonable assistance to anyone who was injured in the accident, including calling emergency services if necessary. Depending on the circumstances, this may involve transporting or making necessary preparations to ensure that such individuals receive medical or surgical treatment from a physician, surgeon, or hospital.
Consequences for Drivers Fleeing a Car Accident Scene
Failing to fulfill the above-mentioned obligations can result in criminal charges and civil liability, with moderate to severe consequences for the at-fault driver. These vary according to the gravity of the accident and whether anyone was injured or killed.
In general, hit-and-run offenses are classified as either misdemeanors or felonies, with the severity of the charge depending on the extent of the damage and injuries. Therefore, a hit-and-run offense is classified as a misdemeanor if the accident caused only minor property damage and no injuries and is punishable by fines, jail time, and the suspension of the driver’s license. For a first-time offender, a misdemeanor hit-and-run offense can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail. For subsequent offenses, the penalties can be even more severe, including higher fines and longer jail sentences.
In contrast, a hit-and-run offense is classified as a felony if the accident has caused severe bodily injury or death. Such an offense is punishable by fines, lengthy prison sentences, and the revocation of the driver’s license. If a hit-and-run accident causes serious bodily injury, the penalties can include a fine of up to $500,000 and up to six years in prison. If the accident results in a death, the penalties can be even more severe, including a fine of up to $750,000 and up to 12 years in prison .
The respective definitions for “injury” and “serious bodily injury” under Title 42 of the Colorado Revised Statute are the following:
- “Injury” means physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical or mental condition.
- “Serious bodily injury” means injury that involves, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement. It also involves a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, as well as breaks, fractures, and burns of the second or third degree.
What is set out above pertains to criminal law and hinges on the police investigation to identify the driver who fled the scene. On the other hand, seeking compensation for your injuries is a civil law issue rather than a criminal one. Hence, be aware of your respective rights and seek appropriate legal guidance that will let you understand your available options and allow you to make informed decisions.
At Legal Help in Colorado, Ross Ziev and his team specialize in representing personal injury victims, handling negotiations with insurance companies, and providing representation in court. We operate on a contingency fee basis, relieving you of concerns about payment until you receive your rightful compensation.
Compensation You May Be Entitled to Following a Car Accident
Hit-and-run accidents are not limited to legal penalties. They can cause physical and emotional trauma to the victims involved and can have long-lasting effects on their lives. Therefore, all drivers should be aware of the laws and act responsibly on the road.
In view of this reality, car accident laws, including those involving hit-and-run cases, are designed to protect victims of accidents and ensure that responsible parties are held accountable for their actions. In Colorado, if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident and you sustain personal injuries or property damage, you may be able to seek compensation for a range of damages, including economic and non-economic ones. Some examples include the following:
- Medical expenses: This includes any medical costs you incur as a result of your injuries, such as hospital bills, doctor’s fees, prescription medications, and rehabilitation expenses.
- Lost wages: If you are unable to work as a result of your injuries, you may be able to seek compensation for any lost income or earning potential.
- Property damage: If your vehicle or other property is damaged in the accident, you may be able to seek compensation for the cost of repairs or replacement.
- Pain and suffering: You may be able to seek compensation for the physical pain and emotional distress caused by the accident and your injuries.
- Punitive damages: In some cases, a court may award punitive damages to punish the driver who caused the hit-and-run and deter others from engaging in similar behavior. Regarding hit-and-run accidents, it may be possible to seek punitive damages in our state if you can show that the defendant acted out of fraud or malice or with reckless disregard for the consequences.
In this context, the specific damages you may be able to recover depend on the circumstances of your case, as well as the insurance coverage and legal options available to you. Additionally, you will need to prove that the damages you suffered were caused by the accident and that the driver who caused the accident was at fault.
Options for Covering Your Losses Following a Hit-and-Run Accident
Colorado is commonly known as an “at-fault” state, meaning you may have the right to seek compensation from the party or parties held responsible for your injuries.
In such cases, the individuals (or entities) deemed at fault may be liable for providing you with the necessary compensation for your damages and losses. Once the at-fault driver is identified and located, you may attempt to seek compensation via their insurance company. If the driver has low policy limits or is uninsured, you may file a civil lawsuit against them.
The law in Colorado mandates that every individual operating a motor vehicle must purchase and maintain at least the minimum insurance coverage specified by the state. Even in cases where the at-fault driver’s identity is known, their car insurance coverage limits may not suffice to cover the damage you have suffered.
In such situations, where the at-fault driver has low policy limits or, worse, if it turns out that the driver is uninsured, recovering the compensation you deserve can be challenging. Even so, you could always file a personal injury or property damage lawsuit to recover compensation directly from the at-fault driver’s assets. If you find yourself under this sort of circumstance, professional advice from a seasoned personal injury attorney would be essential.
A far more complicated problem is that the at-fault driver’s identity is often unknown, at least for some time following the accident. Even in those cases, though, you may be able to receive compensation for your injuries and property damage.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
You may wish to consider purchasing additional insurance, on top of the state-required minimums, such as uninsured motorist (UM) coverage and medical payments coverage (MedPay). Doing so may help you significantly in terms of covering losses arising from your injuries and related expenses.
Uninsured motorist coverage is a type of insurance that provides compensation to drivers who are involved in accidents with uninsured or underinsured drivers. If the driver who caused your hit-and-run accident can’t be identified or does not have adequate insurance coverage, your UM coverage may help cover your medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses resulting from the accident.
As a matter of state law, all insurers in Colorado must provide uninsured (as well as underinsured) motorist insurance equal to the policyholder’s current level of liability coverage. Even though this type of insurance is optional, you may only refuse to purchase it and opt to carry only the minimal level of insurance in writing .
Thus, if you decide to purchase UM, you should be able to claim the cost of your bodily injuries from your insurance company if the at-fault driver who caused your accident remains unidentified, as is the case of hit-and-runs.
MedPay coverage is another type of insurance that can help cover medical expenses resulting from a hit-and-run accident, regardless of who was at fault. MedPay is typically optional in Colorado, but it can be a useful resource for drivers who want additional protection in the event of an accident.
As is the case with UM insurance, purchasing MedPay coverage is not mandatory in Colorado. Nevertheless, car insurers are under obligation to automatically add $5,000 of MedPay coverage to all auto insurance policies sold in the state, and policyholders are only allowed to opt out of it in writing.
Another option you may wish to look into is having some of your medical care expenses resulting from a hit-and-run accident, especially in the initial stages, through your health insurance. If you currently have health insurance coverage, and while you are waiting for a settlement from an insurance company or a personal injury lawsuit, you may opt to have at least a portion of your medical expenses paid through this route.
In any event, the critical thing that you need to remember is that the specific details of your insurance coverage and resulting options will depend on your policy. Therefore, you must review your policy carefully and consult your insurance provider or attorney if you have any questions or concerns.
Contact Legal Help in Colorado
If you or a loved one has been involved in a hit-and-run accident, you must understand Colorado’s hit-and-run laws, take appropriate actions, and make informed decisions based on your available options.
Ross Ziev and his dedicated team at Legal Help in Colorado have extensive experience handling many car accident cases. We have provided expert advice to victims from diverse backgrounds, aiming to secure the best possible outcomes for our clients.
To discuss your case and explore your legal options, we encourage you to reach out to us today. You can contact our office at (303) 351-2567 or visit us in person at 6795 E. Tennessee Ave. #210, Denver, CO, 80224. We offer free consultation, during which we can thoroughly evaluate your situation and determine how best to aggressively and successfully pursue your claim. Rest assured that you will not be responsible for any fees unless and until you recover your rightful compensation!