After a wreck occurs, a bad situation can become much worse when the other driver leaves the scene. It happens all the time. In a hit and run wreck, not only does the at-fault party leave the scene—all of the information needed to identify the person and any potential liability insurance available often leaves with them. This scenario obviously raises several legal questions and concerns. This blog, written by Gary Bruce, dives into the topic of hit and run accidents, specifically focusing on what victims in the Columbus, Georgia and Phenix City, Alabama community can do in these situations.

  1. Understanding Hit and Run Accidents

A hit and run occurs when a driver involved in an collision with another vehicle, a pedestrian, or property leaves the scene without providing contact information or aiding the injured. This is a criminal act under both Alabama and Georgia law and can lead to felony charges if the victim is injured. Hit and run accidents are more common in cases involving pedestrians; in fact, they account for more than one in five pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. each year. Despite the initial challenges they pose, victims have several avenues to seek justice and compensation.

  1. Legal and Investigative Measures

In cases of hit and run, immediate action can significantly impact the resolution of the case. The integration of traffic cameras and surveillance by home and business cameras has enhanced law enforcement’s ability to track down offenders. Additionally, victims should be aware of their own auto insurance policy specifics regarding uninsured motorist coverage, which can cover damages and injuries when the at-fault driver cannot be located. Reporting the incident to the police and your insurance provider as soon as possible is required!!!

In Georgia, where the driver who left the scene is later identified, the driver may be liable for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. This has been the law of the state for over 70 years and is based on the public policy mandating that all parties to an accident must stop and render ai to those involved in the collision, regardless of who caused the collision. Interestingly, unless there is contact or a witness, a claim can not be made on an uninsured motorists insurance policy in Georgia.  This limit is designed to limit fraud I guess, but there are lots of instances where someone is run off the road and there is no witness – and in Georgia, that can be troublesome.  In Alabama, the test is more of the totality of the circumstances – and if a jury believes the injured person, there an be a recovery against their policy.

Alabama also allows punitive damages under the uninsured motorist coverage of the victim’s policy in the same circumstances.  Alabama law requires underinsured motorist carriers to pay sums that the insured “is legally entitled to recover” from the uninsured (or unidentified) tortfeasor; just the same as they would be required to pay those sums as a liability carrier. Because a victim is legally entitled to recover both compensatory and punitive damages against the uninsured/unidentified tortfeasor under Alabama law, they can seek those payments through uninsured motorist coverage.

  1. Practical Advice for Victims

If you are a victim of a hit and run, it is crucial to stay at the scene and gather as much information as possible, including witness statements and photos of the scene if safe to do so. Remember: You are also under a general duty to report the accident, even if you are not at fault.  Contacting the police immediately is essential to file a report that will be critical in your insurance claim process and any legal action. Looking for cameras on houses and businesses can make a HUGE difference. Consulting with a lawyer experienced in hit and run cases can provide the necessary guidance to navigate through your recovery options, dealing with your own insurance, and potentially preparing for when the other driver is found.

  1. Local Impact and Recovery Options

In Phenix City and Columbus, especially, hit and run incidents are far too common, making the news on a weekly basis. Uninsured motorist coverage has proven to be a crucial asset for victims, providing a means for recovery despite the challenges in identifying the fleeing driver. This coverage is often relatively cheap compared to liability coverage rates, and in hit and run situations are often the only coverage available for your injuries.

Our firm routinely files cases against “JOHN DOE” or “JANE DOE” when the driver cannot be identified but there is coverage available to cover the loss.  It can even apply to property damage losses which can happen at night or when the automobile is unattended.

  1. Support from the Law Offices of Gary Bruce

At the Law Offices of Gary Bruce, we understand the complexities and emotional strain of being involved in a hit and run accident. With over 30 years of serving the Chattahoochee Valley community, we have the expertise and local knowledge to help our clients navigate through these difficult times. We invite anyone affected by a hit and run to contact us for a free consultation to explore your legal options.

For more insights, watch Gary Bruce discuss hit and run accidents and what you can do if you find yourself a victim, on WTVM’s Legal Break in Columbus. Click here to view the video and learn more about how we can assist you.