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Car insurance: The hit and run

By Posted : 07/28/2015

A hit and run accident can be especially traumatizing.

The at-fault driver flees the scene before you can get a name or insurance information. Or you find your parked car damaged without a note left behind.

You are not to blame. Because there is no one to take financial responsibility for the damage, ultimately your insurance will pay -- but only if you have bought the right insurance coverage.

Here’s what you need to consider about insurance for hit and run incidents:


What to do after a hit and run

Even though you won't have the name of the driver who caused the wreck, you should collect whatever information is available. You also should try to remember whatever details you can.

Just as with any other type of auto accident, you should immediately report the incident to police and to your insurance company, says Carrie Bonney, a spokeswoman for Farmers Insurance.

You should also:

  • Try to record a description of the other vehicle and its driver.
  • Write down the details of what occurred, and make note of which direction the other vehicle headed after causing the wreck.
  • Get the names and contact information for any witnesses.
  • Get the names and badge numbers of the police officers who responded.
  • Take photos of the accident scene and the vehicles involved, as well as any other property damage.
  • Contact the business or organization nearest the accident scene and inquire about any available surveillance camera footage.

What's a 'miss and run'?

An accident is considered a “miss and run,” or is said to be caused by a "phantom driver," when one vehicle causes another one to crash and then leaves the scene, Bonney says.

There doesn't even have to be contact between the two vehicles for the accident to occur. For example, another vehicle could suddenly swerve into your lane. If you then swerve to avoid the first car and crash, it's a miss and run.

Both miss and runs and hit and runs can have the same repercussions - an injured person, damaged vehicle or damaged property – and there is no at-fault driver who can be held responsible for the accident.

Will a hit-and-run claim raise my insurance rates?

There's no set answer as to what kind of things will cause your auto insurance rates to increase, since rates vary greatly based on state laws and an insurer’s own internal guidelines.

A single not-at-fault collision or uninsured motorist bodily injury claim is unlikely to raise your car insurance, Gusner says.

But if it’s one of multiple claims during the company’s look-back period, usually three years, it could contribute to a rate increase.

You should ask your insurance company to note the claim as “not at fault.”

What happens if I hit a parked car and run?

Leaving the scene of an accident is against the law. Every state requires that drivers stop after an accident to exchange information or render aid if needed.

That applies even in parking lots. Security cameras and eyewitnesses lead to more arrests than you might guess. If you are caught, expect to pay for both the damage to the other person’s car and for the crime of leaving the scene.

A hit and run may be a misdemeanor or a felony. It’s more likely to be a felony if someone has been injured. Criminal penalties can include fines as much as $20,000 and up to 15 years in prison. Even as a misdemeanor, you could face significant fines and up to a year in jail.

There are administrative penalties as well. In New Jersey, for example, leaving the scene of a property-damage accident is 2 points on your motor vehicle record; if there’s an injury, the penalty is 8 points.

Your insurance company is likely to consider a hit-and-run conviction the same way it would other major infractions such as reckless driving or DUI. In North Carolina, for example, the surcharge for a hit-and-run conviction involving only property damage is an 80 percent increase in rates. If bodily injury results, the penalty is a 340 percent increase.

A conviction for leaving the scene may trigger an SR-22 requirement in many states as well.

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