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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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At some point in their lives, most people have been involved in a hit-and-run collision. A hit-and-run occurs whenever a driver causes a car accident and then flees the scene without providing insurance information to the vehicle’s owner. Whether exiting a store to find damage in their parked cars or being hit on the highway by a car that keeps driving, hit-and-run accidents are very common and extremely frustrating. If the at-fault driver isn’t around to file a claim against, who handles the damage?
The answer depends on several factors: the coverage you have on your vehicle, the facts of the loss, whether there were witnesses and whether the at-fault driver’s identity is known.
You Must Not Be at Fault
In order for an accident to qualify as a hit-and-run, you cannot be at fault for the damage. The most common type of hit-and-run accident occurs with vehicles that are parked. Another driver may back into your parked car or open their door into yours, leaving a dent. In other cases, a driver may rear-end you or side swipe you on the street and then continue driving as though nothing happened.
A hit-and-run accident does not include situations where a driver is forced off the road by another. If another driver swerves into your lane, causing you to run off the road and collide with another object, that is known as a phantom vehicle accident. You may or may not be found at fault for failure to maintain your vehicle, and the claim may or may not be covered by uninsured motorist coverage depending on the liability determination and state laws.
You can never file a hit-and-run claim for damage that you cause. If you hit another person’s vehicle and then claim that they hit you, you are committing insurance fraud. The insurance adjuster is usually able to determine the cause of damage, and if they believe you are making a fraudulent claim, the claim will be denied and your policy will be canceled.
If you do not have first-party auto insurance on your policy, your insurance company cannot assist you with repairs, even if the accident is not your fault. In other words, if you have a liability-only policy and you’re involved in a hit and run accident, you cannot file a claim for damage because you do not have the necessary coverage to handle this claim.
Depending on the state you live in and the coverage that you do carry, the accident will either be covered under collision or uninsured motorist. In most states, the default coverage for hit-and-run damage to an auto will be collision. If your accident is covered under collision, you will be responsible for paying the deductible even though you are not at fault. There are a few states where your deductible may be waived if you’re not at fault, such as in Michigan, but this is the exception and not the rule.
If the accident is covered under uninsured motorist, you must still pay a deductible but it will generally be lower than the collision deductible. Uninsured motorist coverage changes from state to state. For example, in California it only applies if the at-fault driver is known and proven to be uninsured. In Texas, a policyholder can choose whether to use collision coverage or uninsured motorist. In New Mexico, all hit-and-run accidents are handled through uninsured motorist coverage.
Can I Ever Get My Deductible Back?
Assuming you live in a state where deductibles at not always waived for hit-and-run accidents, you may or may not be able to recover the deductible. As a rule, the only way to recover the deductible is if there is some way of identifying the at-fault driver. If, for example, a witness saw the vehicle and wrote down the license plate number, you can attempt to identify the driver who caused the damage so that a claim can be filed against their insurance.
If you do have any identifying information for the vehicle that caused the accident, be sure to advise your insurance company about it. They will be able to contact the DMV to run a license plate search and hopefully identify the person who hit your vehicle. If they are able to succeed in this search, they can file a claim or help you levy a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Otherwise, if you do not know who hit your vehicle, you will be responsible for your damage. This is why it’s important to always carry enough coverage on your vehicle and to maintain a reasonable deductible; you never know when your vehicle may be damaged.