Today I’d like to post another common question I receive from my clients and friends about hit and run car accidents. In Michigan, where I practice law, hit and run car accidents have become commonplace, and in some cities like Detroit, almost epidemic because of the numbers of people driving without car insurance. With hit and run car accidents, the entire nature of the case changes. The most important first-step for any attorney is to review the insurance policy of the person you are helping to see what the policy states. For any accident attorneys, hit and run car accident cases become contract cases, not personal injury cases. The insurance policy will control any legal recovery and compensation available to your client.
Here’s a recent example of a question I received:
Q. I was recently in an accident where the other driver made an illegal left turn across my lane, coming directly toward me. I veered around him to prevent a head-on collision, but I ran over a curb and through some street signs. The estimate for the vehicle damage is $2,400. I have a $1,000 deductible and my car insurance company says I have to pay the deductible because the other driver left the scene. However, the Michigan State Police officer wrote it up that I was not at fault and that the other driver caused the crash. I didn’t even receive a ticket. I have comprehensive and broad collision but not uninsured motorist coverage. The only reason my insurance adjuster can give is that the other driver left the scene (and we didn’t actually collide), so I get stuck with the $1,000 bill. Since the police report states I wasn’t at fault and the other driver caused the crash and fled the scene, is this the right way for the insurance company to handle my claim? Would it make a difference if the police report was written up as a hit and run?
A. Based on the facts you provided, it sounds like the accident which led to your vehicle damage was a collision and, thus, your broadened collision coverage should be the coverage that kicks in. The terms of your broadened collision coverage policy is what will dictate how your situation plays out. If, after reviewing your insurance policy, you still believe that you’re entitled to have the deductible waived, then you can file a lawsuit in small claims court for the deductible amount. But keep in mind, if you file a lawsuit in small claims court, your auto insurance company will likely ask to have the case moved to the district court so that the insurer’s lawyer can appear (Lawyers aren’t allowed to appear for litigants in small claims court). Given that the amount in controversy is $1,000, it’s unfortunately likely that you would spend considerably more than that in attorney’s fees.
Regarding your hit and run question, your accident isn’t classified as a hit and run. But if you were involved in a hit and run collision and the other driver drives away without leaving information to identify the vehicle driver and/or owner, you would only be able to collect No Fault insurance benefits and pain and suffering damages if you have uninsured motorist coverage (UM).
Uninsured motorist coverage provides a valuable source of legal recovery after a car accident, when someone is injured by another driver who is uninsured or does not have adequate insurance. With UM coverage, an injured person turns to his or her own auto insurance company to pay what would have been recovered from the at-fault driver, had that person been properly insured with an insurance policy limit to cover their injuries.
Because the law treats an unidentified at-fault hit and run driver effectively as an “uninsured motorist,” a UM policy (subject to its policy limit) would see to it that the hit and run victim receives the pain and suffering compensation and No Fault benefits that the hit and run driver would have been obligated to pay had he or she been apprehended and identified.