Involved in a Hit-and-Run Accident? Know Your Rights

41816(2)Many people are shocked when they realize how common hit-and-run accidents are in the Phoenix area and are alarmed to learn that these incidents are on the rise in many parts of the country. After all, the laws in Arizona make it as clear as can be: motorists involved in a car accident in the state must remain at the scene of that crash until cleared by responding officials, like police officers. There are very limited exceptions to this rule and usually the exceptions apply only the instance of a medical emergency so the vast majority of drivers that choose to leave the scene are guilty of a crime. The type of crime and the level of the offense may vary depending on the circumstances surrounding a collision but can be severe.

The public knows that there are some consequences to drivers who flee the scene of an accident and later are apprehended but far fewer people realize how these collisions impact victims. If you are involved in a crash with a fleeing motorist, for example, do you know your rights? Do you know how to proceed so that your interests are protected? If you are like a typical resident of Maricopa County, odds are that you may have questions, especially if you have never been the victim of an accident.

The good news is that the legislature here understands that victims of traffic incidents did not cause those collisions and therefore they should not be held responsible for their damages. There are laws designed to hold a fleeing driver liable and there are also laws designed to protect a victim if a fleeing driver is never identified.

Often, after a hit-and-run car accident, police are able to identify and locate the driver who left the scene. In these instances, police and local prosecutors may determine what traffic and/or criminal penalties the driver should face and whether other sanctions are appropriate. However, it is important for an injury victim to realize that any steps taken by local prosecutors are designed to benefit the State of Arizona and the public at large and are not designed to help an individual victim. Rather, if a victim wants to seek justice personally, that victim must take legal steps to instigate and bring a personal injury claim, a type of action that is separate and distinct from any traffic tickets or criminal offenses assigned in relation to the collision. That victim and/or the victim’s surviving family members may be able to recover financially against the at-fault, fleeing driver and those responsible for the collision. In some cases, this can be the owner of a car or a company or municipality if the driver was working at the time of a crash. Many victims fail to realize that they can have claims against multiple people or insurance companies as a result of a hit-and-run crash.

In other instances, an at-fault driver who flees the scene is never identified or cannot be located. If that is the case, a victim who is injured may still be entitled to relief through a type of civil claim known as an uninsured motorist claim. In these collisions, a victim’s own automobile insurance company or an automobile insurance company that covers the victim’s vehicle may step into the shoes of an at-fault driver, enabling a victim to recover for her damages. The majority of Arizona drivers carry this kind of coverage in the event they are the victims of a hit-and-run but many do not realize it is available to them.

If you were victimized by the actions of another driver, make sure you take steps to protect yourself. Consider investigating your civil options, including a personal injury claim, and think about speaking with a personal injury attorney so that you can learn about what legal rights you may possess.

Prior Blog Entry:

Nighttime Driving Increases the Risks of Car Accidents in Phoenix, Phoenix Injury Lawyer Blog, published September 7, 2016.