You're driving along, when all of a sudden - CRASH - someone plows right into you! You pull over to exchange information, only to see the other driver speed away.
What a nightmare. Not only has your day been ruined, but now you're on the hook for repair costs and medical expenses that should have been someone else's responsibility.
Or are you? You might be surprised to learn that your car insurance covers you if you're in an accident with a hit-and-run driver.
Do you have the right coverage?
This type of insurance is called "uninsured motorist coverage" or UMC for short. In California, your insurance company is required to offer it to you, but you aren't required to buy it.
You should, though, because uninsured motorist coverage (UIM) doesn't add much to your insurance premium. Having it can mean the difference between getting the care you need after a serious crash and being stuck with overwhelming medical debt.
UIM will also cover you if you're in an accident with someone who doesn't have enough insurance to pay you what your case is worth. Underinsured motorist is sold as a package with underinsured motorist coverage, which provides coverage if the person who hit you doesn't have enough insurance to fully compensate you.
What to do after a crash
After a hit-and-run accident, it is important to take the right steps to protect yourself.
- Document everything: Write down everything you can remember. Try to get the car's license plate number if you can, and note the make and model. Also take note of how the accident happened. Get the contact info for any witnesses that may have seen the crash.
- Call the police: Many insurance companies require an official accident report before they will pay benefits for a hit-and-run. In some cases, the police may even be able to track down the responsible driver.
- Get medical care: If you're injured, go to the emergency room or urgent care as soon as possible. Be especially vigilant for symptoms like headache, dizziness, nausea or confusion as these could be signs of a traumatic brain injury. You can get a brain injury from being jolted during a crash, even if you did not hit your head on something in the car.
- Report the accident to your insurance: You need to tell the insurance company about your accident. Be careful though - from day one, insurance companies are looking for ways to minimize the benefits they have to pay. Stick to the basic facts, and don't give any recorded statements or accept any settlements before talking to a lawyer. Be sure to take photographs of the damage to your vehicle. It is important to preserve any evidence that your vehicle was struck by another vehicle; i.e. paint transfer.
If you declined uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage when you bought your car insurance, consider adding it back into your policy. It is a small amount of money to pay that can result in your peace of mind.