As a driver, you understand there are hazards when you travel Sarasota County roads. When another driver hits your car and lies about his actions or leaves the scene of an accident, it's often difficult to prove that he even hit your car. When you or your passengers sustain injuries, figuring out how to prove the other driver's wrongs is important.
When someone won't acknowledge their negligent driving, the police, your passengers, and your insurance company could hold you responsible. It affects your driving record, increases your insurance premiums, and prevents you from making a liability claim for injury-related damages. Only evidence and skillful lawyering can disprove the lie. For example, if a hit-and-run driver damages your vehicle and you cannot prove the driver's identity, you may be able to submit an Uninsured Motorist claim.
Despite any annoyance or frustration you feel in the immediate aftermath of a motor vehicle accident, you must remember what's important and act accordingly. While at the scene, you should protect yourself and your passengers and arrange for medical care. If you feel comfortable and safe enough to conduct your own mini-investigation, you should do so with caution.
Call the Police at the Accident Scene First
If you can access your cell phone, call 911. If not, request that a bystander make the call for you. Leaving an accident scene is a crime under Florida law. When the other driver sticks around but simply lies about the circumstances, you will need the police to document both versions as well as the physical evidence.
When you contact the police, it accomplishes several tasks:
- As leaving an accident is a crime, the police may identify the other driver through accessing local street cameras and other video footage.
- Lying about an accident could be a simple matter of one driver's word against another and is not necessarily a crime. Still, the police may access video footage to determine what happened.
- Your insurance company requires that you file a police report if a hit-and-run driver causes damage and injuries or if you have an accident.
- A police report helps you validate your PIP benefits claim and your potential uninsured motorist claims.
- Police involvement can help relieve any suspicion that your claim is fake or fraudulent.
Arrange Emergency Medical Treatment After an Accident
When you call 911, ask the operator to send emergency medical services, even if you don't believe anyone has suffered an injury. It's important to be evaluated by a medical professional at the scene to ensure you or others do not show signs of trauma, and to have transportation to an emergency department if you do. It is also important to follow up with a doctor even if you don't experience symptoms immediately.
Conduct Your Own Investigation of the Accident Site
While you wait for the authorities to arrive on-scene, do your own investigation if it's safe to do so. Documenting and preserving evidence is a bold move. It can help you locate the hit-and-run driver or verify that the other person hit you instead of you hitting him or her.
Of course, if you are in too much pain or too uncomfortable in your surroundings, let the police handle everything when they arrive. On the other hand, if you feel safe exiting your car and walking around the accident scene, go ahead.
Talk to Bystanders Who May Have Witnessed the Accident
If your accident occurred on a street where people are walking, driving, or looking out of their windows, someone probably saw what happened. If you see strangers hovering around the scene, they might be witnesses. Talk to them before they get away.
Witnesses sometimes feel uncomfortable giving their name to a police officer or even acknowledging that they saw anything. They might reveal a few facts if you ask a direct question. Find out if a bystander saw what happened.
If it was a hit-and-run accident, ask bystanders if they can describe the other driver's car make, model, color, or anything else significant. If it's a matter of conflicting versions, ask witnesses what they saw.
Get their names and phone numbers so you can follow up. If they're uncomfortable with divulging too much personal information, ask if you can send them a text or an email.
Photograph the Car Accident Scene with Your Cell Phone
If you've been around an accident scene in recent years, you probably noticed drivers stepping out of their cars, pulling out their cell phones and snapping away. That's a perfect idea for preserving post-accident evidence.
If the other driver is still at the scene, take a few photos of both cars. Get a picture of his or her driver's license and license plate. Document vehicle conditions, damage, and stopping positions.
Get a few wide shots of the accident scene and the surrounding landmarks. If stop signs or traffic lights were significant to your accident, take a photo of those traffic control devices showing their location in relation to both cars.
Record Your Own Brief Statement
Witnesses forget the details of an event pretty quickly. This is especially true when a triggering event produces anxiety. It's a good idea to record what you remember as you wait for the police.
If your phone has an audio recorder talk about the accident, what happened, what you saw, and what you heard. Describe the other vehicle with as many details as you can remember. Consider the same make, model, color questions you asked potential witnesses.
In doing so, remember that you must never admit your own fault or make definite statements about what you might have done to avoid the accident. Just record the facts as you remember them, without assigning any blame
Get Your Insurance Company Involved
Regardless of what's happening with the other driver, you must report the claim and allow your insurance company to investigate and make coverage and claim decisions. Complying with these duties keeps you in good standing with your insurance company. It also places your insurer on notice of your potential Personal Injury Protection claim, vehicle damage claim, and uninsured motorist claim.
Contact Your Insurer as Soon as Possible
Although a number of different insurance companies write Personal Auto Policy policies in Florida. Essentially, they all contain some of the same basic policy language. The section Duties After an Accident or Loss explains your requirements after an accident occurs.
This section lists post-accident requirements including those which apply after a hit-and-run accident:
- You must notify the police if a hit-and-run or phantom vehicle is involved in your accident.
- Notify the insurance company as to how, when, and where the accident or loss happened.
- Cooperate with the investigation.
Let the Insurance Company Inspect Your Car
Insurance companies no longer handle vehicle damage claims by paying the lower of two or three estimates. When you submit a property damage claim, you work with experienced auto appraisers. They inspect your car, photograph the damage, and write an appraisal for your body shop.
An experienced appraiser will also comment on any physical evidence that contradicts your accident report. The claim department might even ask the appraiser if your car looks like it was struck by another vehicle or if you struck a stationary object. An appraiser can usually tell what happened and how it happened by:
- The impact direction
- The size of any dents
- The swipes that indicate damage during vehicle movement
- The paint colors left behind
- The rust that shows the damage is old
The insurance company might not have precise information that proves who did what, but between your version and the physical evidence, they will know if a hit-and-run version is legitimate or who ran into whom. An appraiser can also offer an informed guess about what the cars were doing when the accident occurred.
Ask About Your Insurance Company's Subrogation Investigation
Your auto insurance company is a strong ally for locating a hit-and-run driver or verifying fault. If your injuries meet the PIP tort threshold and you make an uninsured motorist claim, they'll verify the facts however they can. Because fraud is an ever-present concern, insurance companies confirm facts through independent witnesses and other drivers involved in an accident. They will conduct an investigation similar to your mini scene investigation, only more comprehensive.
Potential subrogation collections provide a strong incentive for finding a hit and run driver. Insurance companies put their full resources behind such tasks. If your insurance company pays for vehicle damages and medical payments benefits, or they settle your uninsured motorists claim, it will have subrogation rights and will seek reimbursement of paid damages from whomever it believes was at fault.
Unfortunately, if the driver remains at the scene, lies about negligence, and verifies having liability coverage, it can sabotage subrogation efforts and also diminish your chances of settling an uninsured motorist claim.
How Uninsured Motorist Coverage Works
While you may have personal reasons for proving another driver hit your car, your efforts to prove who hit you may also help you present a more credible uninsured motorist claim. Your UM coverage pays for your injury-related damages when a driver without liability insurance causes your accident. The coverage also applies when an unknown driver or hit-and-run driver strikes your car.
Your UM coverage pays the general damages not covered by PIP. Those include intangibles such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, scarring, and loss of consortium. As with a traditional liability claim, you must exceed a PIP tort threshold before you can make a liability claim against your uninsured motorist coverage, and these thresholds are:
- Significant/permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury
- Significant/permanent scarring or disfigurement
If you prove that the other driver hit your car or identify a hit-and-run driver, the information would confirm your version of the events. It would also eliminate any suspicions that you're committing fraud. Insurance fraud is a major concern in Florida and across the country.
Florida Personal Auto Policies make sure their policyholders understand this. Auto policies include multiple fraud references and exclusions related to PIP, physical damage, and other coverages. The policy General Provisions section contains a blanket Fraud exclusion that applies to the entire policy, ...We do not provide coverage for any insured who has made fraudulent statements or engaged in fraudulent conduct…
The good news is that your insurance contract is a good faith contract. Your insurance company usually accepts your version unless there is clear evidence that you are submitting a fraudulent claim.
Why Must You Prove Who Hit Your Car?
A few days after your accident and before you continue sorting out the issues, you should address a few important questions:
- Why is your quest still important?
- If you find the driver or force a deceptive driver to tell the truth, how you will benefit from the information?
If you're trying to prove a criminal case against a hit-and-run driver, the police department will handle that investigation. If you need proof that you have a valid uninsured motorist claim, your insurance company will let you know if they need more information from you. Unless someone accuses you of fraud, you may wish to take a break from trying to prove anything.
You should begin healing from your injuries and let the insurance and criminal professionals figure out the driver issue. Both the police department and the insurance company have dedicated professionals handling the necessary tasks. The insurance companies have corporate deep pockets for investigative expenses and a dedicated claim staff handling the legwork.
Police have the easiest access to the evidence. If you simply want to know for your own peace of mind, try one last resource.
Track Down Local Police Video Footage of the Accident
Sarasota Police and other local departments monitor streets with video cameras. If you wish to access the stored digital footage, you may need a subpoena. Following up with the officer who investigated your accident is an easier option. The officer will have quicker, easier access to the video footage, although if the department is busy handling serious crime issues, your investigation might not be a priority.
Whatever you decide, you must act quickly. Video systems produce so much digital content, police departments retain them for only a limited time. You may also have one alternative source for obtaining a video of your accident.
Recently, a service called Smart Traffic Info began providing live digital video of Sarasota County roads. Anyone may view video streams from 220 cameras located on roads, bridges, and intersections in Sarasota County. The site doesn't record the information but traffic controllers watch the feeds, document traffic events and accidents, and post information.
The information they post could prove helpful in tracking down a hit-and-run driver or verifying your version of an accident. Obtaining the information you need through this service is a matter of chance. To verify your accident, the traffic controller would have had to notice it and document it in real-time.
Contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA for Help with Your Case
If you've been seriously injured in an accident, investigating the facts and resolving complicated issues on your own can be difficult. At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we've recovered millions in settlements and judgments for our injured clients. We may be able to help you, too.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
8039 Cooper Creek Blvd
University Park, FL, 34201