According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about six million car accidents occur yearly in the United States. Many of these result in injuries of various degrees, with at least one driver or passenger injured in 43% of car crashes. Unfortunately, one of every 147 accidents results in fatal injuries, with the three leading causes of fatal collisions being speeding, driving under the influence (DUI), and not using a seat belt . However, hit-and-run accidents fall directly under those top three, and these accidents are often some of the most dangerous.
In 2020 alone, 2,564 car accident fatalities were classified as hit and run, constituting a 26% increase from the previous year. According to recent data, hit-and-run accidents represent 7% of the total number of fatalities in our country . At the same time, they are also responsible for many non-fatal injuries and property damage.
What happens if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident, though?
Know Your Rights
Sadly, many drivers responsible for car accidents leading to injury, property damage, and even death flee the scene. Many of them do so, presumably, to escape liability rather than doing what is ethically and legally right and face the consequences of their actions.
Victims are left wondering who will cover the damages they have suffered due to the accident, including medical bills and car repairs if the identity of the driver who caused it is unknown.
If you or a loved one were the victims of a hit-and-run accident, you still have legal rights, and it may still be possible to seek compensation for the losses you have suffered. Finding out your options will be best served by seeking the advice of an experienced car accident attorney with a proven track record of handling injury claims involving hit-and-run drivers in our state.
Ross Ziev and his team at Legal Help in Colorado are Denver’s premier car crash attorneys. We have the necessary experience, expertise, and commitment to helping injury victims. We are available to review the details of your accident during a free initial consultation. We can discuss your legal options and answer your questions confidently.
Hit and Run Basics
Generally, a hit-and-run accident is when a driver hits another car, person, animal, or property and fails to provide insurance information or render aid before leaving the scene. Depending on each state’s applicable laws and the particular case circumstances, they carry criminal charges ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony, with punishments varying from fines to incarceration.
In Colorado, where up to 1 in 5 car accidents are hit and run, these serious offenses can result in hefty fines and even imprisonment. As it is against the law to leave the scene of any crash, even if nobody is injured, doing so has serious consequences.
Specifically, the law requires any driver involved in a traffic accident that has led to damage to a vehicle or person to stop and remain at the accident scene. They should then exchange necessary information with other parties involved, including their driver’s license and registration information, and contact the police to report the car accident and call them to the scene.
The latter is crucial, as Colorado law stipulates that drivers must report any car accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage to the police . Even though each police department has the discretion to decide whether to respond to minor accident scenes where nobody appears to have been hurt, the safest advice is to make the call, mainly if the accident is not genuinely minor.
It is critical to do so in cases where the driver flees the scene, as having the police attend to the scene is essentially the only way to ensure that officers will investigate your accident and file a police report.
Furthermore, according to §42-4-1603 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, drivers responsible for an accident must also offer reasonable assistance to any person injured in such an accident. Depending on the circumstances, this may include carrying or making arrangements to take such persons to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment .
Criminal Consequences of a Hit and Run
The criminal consequences of a hit-and-run can be highly severe, mainly if there are injured victims. Under Colorado law, fleeing the scene of an accident triggers one of the following four criminal charges, depending on its outcome :
- If the accident caused property damage, the driver who left the scene may be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense punishable by 10 to 90 days in jail or $150 to $300.
- A non-serious bodily injury may qualify as a class 1 traffic misdemeanor punishable by 10 days to 1 year in jail and $300 to $1,000 in fines.
- Hit-and-run accidents resulting in serious bodily injury are class 4 felonies, punishable by 2 to 6 years in prison and fines between $2,000 to $500,000.
- If the outcome of a hit and run is death, the driver may be looking at a class 3 felony, punishable by 4 to 12 years in prison and fines between $3,000 and $750,000.
Accordingly, the definitions provided by Title 42 of the Colorado Revised Statutes for “injury” and “serious bodily injury” 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, or a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.
All the above are matters of criminal law and rely on the investigation that the police will carry out in their effort to determine the driver who fled the scene. On the other hand, receiving compensation for your injuries is a civil law matter, rather than a criminal law one, so you will need to be aware of your rights and have proper guidance regarding your legal options.
Ross Ziev and his team at Legal Help in Colorado represent personal injury victims and negotiate claims on their behalf with insurance companies, as well as represent them in court, and do so on the basis of a contingency fee so that you don’t have to worry about paying us unless and before you receive your payment.
Colorado is what is commonly referred to as an “at-fault” state, which means that you may be entitled to receive compensation from the party (or parties) responsible for your injuries.
The compensation you may be entitled to can include both economic and non-economic damages. These may range from compensation covering the cost of the medical care required for your car accident injuries to the ensuing pain and suffering, lost income, and other economic losses. Punitive damages may also be available in exceptional cases, especially if the person who caused the injury acted in a willful and wanton manner.
The system put in place under Colorado law allows you to recover losses suffered due to a car accident by the at-fault driver’s car insurance company, up to the driver’s liability coverage limits.
File a Claim
Bearing in mind the above, the first step in most car accident cases is to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Colorado law has specific minimum car insurance requirements in place that apply to all motorists, making it illegal for anyone to operate a motor vehicle without having purchased at least the minimum insurance coverage stipulated by law.
Therefore, all automobile owners in Colorado are required to carry liability insurance that covers bodily injury to another person or property damage to another’s vehicle or property when the insured is at fault for an accident.
Even in such cases, where the at-fault driver’s identity is known, it is possible that their car insurance coverage limits are not enough for the damage you have suffered.
For example, accidents leading to serious bodily injuries may end up costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, serious life adjustments, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and even death, as well as extensive damage to vehicles and other property. Minimal insurance coverage may not be able to cover this.
In such situations, where the at-fault driver has low policy limits or, worse, if it turns out that they are actually uninsured, recovering the compensation you deserve can be challenging.
File a Lawsuit
If receiving the compensation that you (or your attorney) believe you deserve through the car insurance process does not seem feasible, another option you have is to file a personal injury or property damage lawsuit and seek to recover compensation directly from the at-fault driver’s personal assets.
When it comes to hit-and-run accidents, it may be possible to seek punitive damages, a unique category of damages available only in some instances. Their purpose differs from that of compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate the accident victim for their injuries and other losses. Instead, punitive damages punish the offender in a civil context and deter others from acting the same way.
In our state, punitive damages are only available if lawyers can show that the defendant acted out of fraud or malice or with reckless disregard for the consequences. Hence, due to the nature of hit-and-run cases, punitive damages may be available to victims, even if seeking them will certainly not be an easy task and you will have to build a solid case in court to succeed.
Special attention must be paid, among other things, to the procedure set up by law for recovering such damages, the applicable statute of limitations, and the restrictions currently in place on the amount of the related award.
Special Circumstances Surrounding Hit and Run Accidents
The main issue with hit-and-runs is precisely the fact that the identity of the at-fault driver may be unknown for a considerable period of time and can, in fact, remain unknown indefinitely.
Consequently, the possibility of filing a claim against their insurance company or opting for a civil lawsuit against them may be a challenging option, particularly shortly following your accident. Provided, however, that the police have responded to the scene, prepared an official report, and are investigating the case, you may be able to seek compensation from the at-fault driver once they are identified and located.
Hit-and-run accidents occur in many ways, causing various types of damage. From affecting pedestrians to other drivers and even empty vehicles or other property, their effect is almost always shocking and, at times, devastating. You should do several practical things to assist in the investigation to identify the at-fault driver.
How to Deal with a Hit and Run
If your vehicle or other property was hit and damaged while you were away, try to locate any witnesses as soon as possible following your accident and provided you do not require emergency medical assistance. Talk to them and take down their contact information, as this can be invaluable in ascertaining the identity of the at-fault driver.
If you were at the scene, do your best to recall the vehicle’s details that caused the accident. For example, see if you can remember its license plate, bearing in mind that even a few letters or numbers can help. Likewise, try to recall other details, such as its color, any special markings or characteristics, whether it was new or old, and so on.
At the same time, make use of any surveillance material that may be available, such as, for example, video cameras from nearby businesses or red camera lights, especially if the car was speeding.
Once the at-fault driver is identified and located, you may seek compensation via their insurance company. If they have low policy limits or are uninsured, you can explore the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit against them. A professional with extensive legal experience in dealing with this type of case will be able to represent you aggressively in terms of negotiating with the other side’s insurance company and, if need be, in court.
Preparing for All Eventualities
Another thing that all motorists should seriously consider doing is looking into buying additional insurance as a means of protecting themselves against the possibility of being involved in a car accident with a driver who either has low insurance coverage or is uninsured and, of course, in the event of a hit and run accident.
You never know if you will ever face such a situation, so it is best to err on the side of caution, even if it means incurring an additional cost for purchasing insurance that may grant you enhanced protection.
Colorado law does not oblige drivers to buy insurance beyond that required by state law as a minimum. All insurers in the state must provide uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance. This should be equal to the policyholder’s current level of liability coverage. Accordingly, recognizing the importance of holding insurance, the law stipulates that you may refuse coverage and opt to carry only the minimal level of coverage .
Having UM/UIM insurance means that you should be able to claim the cost of your bodily injuries if you are struck by a driver who leaves the accident scene and remains unidentified.
This can be extremely useful in hit-and-run cases. However, UM/UIM insurance will not cover property damage, such as repairs to your vehicle. To also receive coverage for this type of loss, consider buying collision coverage, which protects you against any physical damage caused to your car by impact with another vehicle or a stationary object, regardless of fault. Therefore, having collision coverage should help you pay for repairs to your car or the actual cash value of your vehicle if it is a total loss.
In addition to the above, another option you may wish to explore would be buying medical payments coverage, which could offer you additional protection to any health insurance policy you may already have in place or, even most importantly, if you do not have any health insurance. This coverage pays for medical expenses, including copayments or deductibles, for the insured vehicle driver and passengers, regardless of fault.
Alert Your Insurance Company
In any event, an important piece of advice is to always alert your insurance company regarding any such incident, even if you do not think at the time that you may end up filing a claim for the hit and run.
In this context, you should make sure to document your injuries and/or damage caused to your property, as best as you can, but always in a way that puts your health and safety as a priority.
There is no such thing as a straightforward car accident and an accident involving a fleeing at-fault driver is about as complicated as it gets. Although you will have options even in this type of case, it may be more challenging to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. For example, even if you have planned ahead and purchased additional insurance coverage, you may discover that your insurance company may try to reduce the value of your claim or deny payment altogether by downplaying your losses or looking for contract loopholes.
Contact Legal Help in Colorado
Ross Ziev and his team at Legal Help in Colorado have successfully dealt with a large number of car accidents. We have offered professional advice to victims from all walks of life, with the aim of securing the best deal possible for them.
Contact us today at (303) 351-2567 or visit our offices at 6795 E. Tennessee Ave. #210, Denver, CO, 80224 for a free consultation, so we can discuss your case and see how we can help you pursue your claim aggressively and successfully. You won’t have to pay us any fees until you recover your compensation.