Enduring any car crash is painful enough. But 25 percent of those in Florida car crashes have no one to answer for what happened because the at-fault driver took off or fled the scene. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports 1 in 4 crashes in the Sunshine State are hit-and-run accidents. There are laws on the books intended to hold fleeing drivers accountable. But even if those drivers are never caught, there may still be several insurance claim options that can help injured persons collect damages. If you’re hurt in a Fort Myers hit-and-run accident, injury lawyers advise taking certain steps to preserve evidence and protect your right to recover your losses from what insurance companies call a “Phantom Vehicle”
Fort Myers Hit and Run Accident Laws
An accident is considered a “hit-and-run” when a driver flees the scene without staying long enough to exchange personal information with the other driver (name, address, license number, vehicle registration, insurance information) or to render aid and “reasonable assistance” to anyone who’s injured. Per F.S. 315.062, reasonable assistance can mean simply calling 911 or, in some cases, physically taking the injured person to a hospital themselves.
Strangely, a previous loophole in Florida law actually provided some drivers with an incentive to commit hit-and-runs. Prior to 2014, state law made it a lesser crime to flee the scene of a crash involving serious injuries and/or death than to be charged with DUI manslaughter. So if someone was intoxicated at the time of a collision, there was an incentive to leave; if they could avoid being caught at least until the blood-alcohol level dropped, they’d face lesser charges. That loophole was closed with the passage of the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, F.S. 316.027, named after a bicyclist killed in a fatal Florida hit-and-run. (Cyclists and pedestrians are at especially high risk in hit-and-run crashes.) Now, hit-and-run accidents resulting in serious injuries or fatalities are considered second- or first-degree felonies.
Monetary Compensation for Florida Hit-and-Run Crashes
While many of those impacted by Fort Myers hit-and-run accidents are heavily invested in the outcome and accountability of the criminal case, it’s important not to overlook your rights in the civil justice system. Such remedies are entirely separate from the criminal case and can be sought concurrently. Where the purpose of the criminal case is to punish unlawful acts, the purpose of the civil justice system is to “make whole” those who have sustained losses due to another’s negligence. In some instances, pursuit of civil damages is all a hit-and-run accident victim has, particularly if the at-fault driver is never found.
Among the types of auto insurance coverage that may prove helpful to hit-and-run crash victims:
- Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. This coverage is required for all registered vehicles as part of Florida’s no-fault system of car insurance, per F.S. 627.736. This is coverage you pay for, and you do not need to prove the other driver was at-fault to collect it. While it covers emergency medical bills and a portion of your lost wages, the downside is the maximum you can recover is $10,000 (which doesn’t go far in a serious crash).
- Collision coverage. Collision coverage is extra insurance you can carry that will cover the cost of your vehicle property damage, regardless of who is at-fault. As our Fort Myers hit-and-run accident attorneys can explain, it’s very helpful in a hit-and-run case. The one downside is that if the other driver isn’t located, you will probably be responsible to cover your deductible for the repairs.
- Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. This is probably the single best means of recovery in a hit-and-run accident, particularly if the other driver is never found. UM coverage is insurance you pay for that kicks in when the at-fault driver either doesn’t have insurance or (as in the case of a hit-and-run) isn’t found. If the at-fault driver is found but doesn’t have enough insurance to cover your losses, your underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage would kick in. UM/UIM comes standard with most Florida auto insurance policies. Unless you declined in writing, you very likely have it. Of particular importance in the context of this article is a provision in Uninsured motorist coverage that covers an insured driver when they are struck by a “phantom vehicle” – Therefore if they are able to describe the vehicle and some basics of how the crash occurred to both law enforcement and their insurance company then the should be covered in the case of a hit-and-run crash.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. Hit-and-run crash survivors should promptly seek advice from an experienced injury attorney to determine what legal avenues are applicable in their situation.
What Should I Do After a Florida Hit-and-Run Crash?
Hit-and-run accidents can leave you feeling blindsided (literally). You didn’t set out that day expecting to be in a crash, and you certainly didn’t expect to have to deal with the at-fault driver suddenly absconding. If you’re conscious and able, it’s important to keep a cool head and, if possible, take the following steps:
- Relocate your vehicle to a safe place near the scene of the accident. You don’t want to stray too far from where the collision occurred, but it’s important you aren’t further imperiled by ongoing traffic.
- Check on everyone. Make sure your passengers are Ok. If other vehicles were involved, check on those drivers and passengers. Even slight injuries should be examined and cleared by a medical professional.
- Call 911. You can do this while also checking on everyone. Prompt response from paramedics, EMTS, and police is important, both for the health and well-being of those involved, as well as for the integrity of the investigation. Don’t alter any aspect of the scene while you’re waiting unless it is to help someone who is hurt or to prevent further injury.
- Jot down any ideas you can recall. Do this while everything is fresh in your mind. Use a voice-to-text feature if you need to make it faster. Note anything you can remember about the other driver, their vehicle, what happened just before and right after the collision, how fast they were going, and in which direction they fled.
- Talk to eyewitnesses. If anyone around saw what happened, ask them to stay on site until police arrive so they can relay the details to police. If they can’t, politely request their name and contact information.
- Take pictures and videos. Capture as much of the scene as possible, taking particular care to document injuries and damage to your vehicle and surrounding property.
- Contact your insurance provider. Give them the basic information. If your injuries are serious, your attorney can handle this for you.
- Call an injury lawyer right away. If your injuries are substantial or if someone died, this is not the time to try to negotiate with insurers on your own. You have enough going on, and you may not even be in a position to analyze the full extent of your damages. This is what a Fort Myers injury lawyer is for. Fees are contingent on your winning, so you pay nothing upfront.
If you have questions about the next steps to take following a Southwest Florida hit-and-run accident, our dedicated Florida civil trial lawyers are available to help you navigate the process.
If you are injured in Fort Myers, Naples, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, or Key West, contact Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.
Hit-and-Run Crashes: Prevalence, Contributing Factors and Countermeasures, April 2018, AAA Foundation
More Blog Entries:
When Dangerous Vehicle Design Causes Florida Crash Injuries, June 17, 2021, Fort Myers Hit-and-Run Accident Lawyer Blog