Hit and run accidents are all too frequent in Tampa Bay. All too often they result in fatalities and life-threatening injuries. The after-effects of these crashes leave victims and their families searching for answers and trying to put their lives back together after the tragic loss of a loved one or from traumatic injuries that result in permanent disability, enormous medical bills and loss of income.
Statistically, the Florida Highway Patrol recently reported over 12,000 hit and run accidents in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, in 2018 alone! This staggering figure clearly speaks to the devastating impact these crashes have on so many victims, but sadly it doesn’t tell the whole story. Between 2015 and 2019, there were more than 500,000 hit and run crashes in our state. Over a thousand people were killed in these crashes in that same 5-year span. In 2019, more than 85% of the fatalities happened during the hours between dusk and dawn and resulted in 206 deaths. This alarming percentage of fatalities during nighttime hit and run crashes is not an aberration. Year after year, the statistics reveal that hit and run crashes nearly always happen at night.
How can we as a community of concerned citizens and responsible drivers protect ourselves and our families from the scourge of hit and run accidents?
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that hit and run accidents are covered under our own auto insurance policies, but if and only if, the policy contains Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM). UM coverage, if purchased and not waived, affords policyholders full benefits and compensation for their damages up to the amount of the UM policy limits. If stacking UM coverage is purchased, the UM policy limits are multiplied by the number of vehicles under the same policy and with the same carrier.
This means insurance companies are legally liable to their own policyholders having UM coverage to the extent the person is injured in a hit and run accident. The policyholder is entitled to collect the full amount of damages from their own insurer to the same extent they could collect damages from the unknown at-fault driver or vehicle owner. The only limitation is the amount of the UM policy limits and the degree of the victim’s losses. In the case of a fatality, the surviving family members are also entitled to compensation for their mental suffering as well as any economic losses from the decedent’s earnings.
The only obligation upon the policyholder is to promptly notify their insurance company about the accident and to cooperate with the carrier’s investigation. If the at-fault driver cannot be ascertained, UM coverage is in place to provide compensation and benefits to ameliorate the losses. Even if the hit and run driver is later identified, the victim may still obtain compensation from their own carrier under their UM coverage over and above any bodily injury liability coverage available from at-fault driver and vehicle owner’s insurance company. With this in mind, we strongly urge everyone to purchase stacking UM coverage of at least $100,000 per person. Under no circumstances should anyone ever waive, reject or limit their legal right to stacking UM coverage.
With the statistics showing the higher risk of hit and run accidents during nighttime hours, it’s clearly an advantage to avoid driving at night. Nighttime accidents invariably increase the likelihood of DUI crashes and the chance of a DUI driver leaving the scene of a crash. This is especially true for accidents on weekends and holidays. Our legal experience has led us to conclude that drunk drivers, and especially those with prior DUI’s or driving on a suspended license, are more inclined to leave the scene of a crash.
Dash cams are also a useful tool in investigating hit and run accidents. Dash cams are now a surprisingly affordable device that records the driving behavior of other motorists. They can be installed both to the front and the rear of any vehicle. We have also found that early investigation of hit and run crashes is especially useful in allowing our investigators to obtain surveillance from surrounding businesses near the scene. With early representation, we can begin our investigation right away before video evidence is lost or destroyed. Depending upon the seriousness of the crash and injuries, law enforcement officers do not always obtain surveillance near the scene that may prove to be helpful in determining fault and the identity of hit and run drivers.
In addition, it is best to seek medical help immediately after a hit and run crash by calling 911 for assistance if possible. Do not under any circumstances resort to self-help methods by trying to follow the get-a-way vehicle or persons leaving the scene. Allow the authorities to do their job at the scene while you wait. Attempting to engage in a chase after a hit and run accident is dangerous to you and other motorists.
Seek immediate medical attention and do not wait for all of your symptoms to manifest themselves before getting skilled medical treatment. If you have any doubt as to whether you need medical assistance after a hit and run accident, it is always best to err on the side of caution and obtain emergent medical care right away. Do not fall into the trap of hesitating to obtain medical care on a concern that the at-fault driver cannot be held liable to pay your medical bills. Every resident of the State of Florida that owns a motor vehicle is required to purchase Personal Injury Protection (PIP) otherwise known as No-Fault Coverage. Your PIP coverage equally applies in the event of a hit and run crash and pays 80% of the medical bills in most instances up to $10,000. Beyond that amount, your UM coverage is available for reimbursement of the out of pocket bills and unpaid medical expenses.
Lastly, allow our attorneys at Perenich The Law Firm to review your auto insurance policy periodically to make certain you have the correct type of coverage and an appropriate amount of coverage. We offer this service free to clients, former clients and friends of our firm.
-Gregory J. Perenich, Esquire