Your Comprehensive Guide to California Hit and Run Laws
Despite following traffic rules and regulations, accidents can happen anytime, and nobody is exempt. This is especially true for hit-and-run accidents, which may see drivers suffer serious or even fatal injuries due to reckless drivers, no matter how responsible they were on the road.
If you get involved in this type of accident, a million questions race through your mind. Your first concern is whether you were injured. The accident may cause you to miss work, make it difficult to care for family members, and reduce your quality of life.
For this reason, we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide to California hit-and-run laws to help you figure out what to do in case you find yourself in this situation.
What is a Hit-and-Run Accident?
A vehicle hitting another car or person without stopping at the scene is considered a hit-and-run accident. It could result in property damage or personal injury/death to another person.
What To Do After a Hit-and-Run?
If you’re the victim or a bystander who witnessed the accident, you must immediately call the authorities and medical personnel to the scene. Besides this, the most important thing to do while at the accident scene is to compile the at-fault driver’s insurance and contact details.
However, there’s no way you can easily get the necessary information if the responsible party flees the scene. Even without the other driver present, you may still take photos or videos of the accident and speak with witnesses to serve as strong evidence to support your case.
The Role of “Fault”
In California, only the driver who is “at fault” must pay to fix the damages. This means that the driver who causes the property damage or personal injury must cover expenses due to that damage and resulting bodily harm, lost wages, and emotional distress.
It’s also possible that both drivers were partially at fault. In that case, each party is responsible for the amount of damages they caused. For example, the insurance carrier could find you 55% at fault, which means you’ll pay 55% of the repairs.
When you experience a hit-and-run, either scenario is possible. Regardless of the party at fault, both parties must abide by the California Vehicle Code to avoid criminal liability for a hit-and-run collision.
If you were partially at fault, prosecutors could also charge you for a hit-and-run offense if you fled the scene.
California Laws for Hit-and-Run Accidents
As indicated above, a hit-and-run accident occurs in one of two situations: when property damage occurs and when personal injury or death occurs. The former is a misdemeanor, while the latter is a felony offense. Hit-and-run laws vary depending on the severity of the damages and injuries.
California Vehicle Code Section 20002 (Misdemeanor Hit-and-Run)
According to hit-and-run laws, the driver of any vehicle involved must immediately stop at the nearest location without impeding traffic or jeopardizing the safety of other motorists. When you’ve experienced a car accident resulting in damage to property owned by someone else, the California Vehicle Code imposes these responsibilities:
- Provide the other party with your name and address
- Show the other party a copy of your driver’s license and vehicle registration. If you don’t own the vehicle, provide the other party with the contact information of the person who does
- Exchange your insurance information or face a $250 fee
Failure to provide the above requirements and fleeing the scene without performing these duties are guaranteed punishment or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months.
California Vehicle Code 20001 (Felony Hit-and-Run)
A felony hit-and-run occurs when a car accident causes injury or death to someone else. The California Vehicle Code Section 20001 states, “Any driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to someone else shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill their legal requirements in Vehicle Code Sections 20003 and 20004.”
Together, these sections require the driver to:
- Immediately stop at the crash site and provide the other party and police with identification
- Provide “reasonable” assistance to the injured party, which includes transportation to a hospital if necessary
- Call the police if someone dies
- Provide the other party and police with car registration, insurance policy, and driver’s license
A felony hit-and-run offense imposes harsher penalties, so the charge is naturally a bit more complex. The prosecutor must show that you were “involved” in the accident. This means that there’s a direct connection between you and the crash.
A connection is presumed in the case of the following:
- If you make any statements about the accident to the police, insurance adjuster, or other parties
- If the damage to your car correlates to damage to the other person’s car
What are the Penalties of a California Hit-and-Run Case?
A misdemeanor and felony hit-and-run offense are punishable by the California hit-and-run laws and are subject to penalties.
Here’s what’s included in the legal penalties for a misdemeanor hit-and-run offense:
- Up to 6 months in county jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
- Restitution to the victim (i.e., payment for property damage)
- Two points on your DMV record that may increase your insurance premium
Depending on your criminal history and driving record, it’s possible that a judge would sentence you to community service and a probation period. If this is your first offense and alcohol was not a factor, you may also seek a “civil compromise.” This would dismiss the charges after you fully compensate the victim.
As a more serious crime, the felony hit-and-run results in harsher penalties. These include:
- Up to 1 year in county jail with at least 90 days served for a non-serious injury and up to 4 years in state prison for permanent injury or death
- A fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000
- Restitution to the victim
- Two points on your DMV record
If you have never served a sentence in state prison and meet certain other conditions, then the charge may be reduced to a misdemeanor.
How to File a Claim for Hit-and-Run Accidents in California?
Every year, there are over 2,500 fatal hit-and-run accidents in California. If you’re one of these individuals involved in a hit-and-run, you may be able to file a legal case depending on the amount of information you have.
Below are the things you need to get as soon as the collision occurs.
- The license plate number of the other car, even if only partial
- Make, model, and color of the other car, even if you have to guess
- Any damage caused by the accident
- Identifying characteristics of the other driver
- The direction in which the other car fled
If you don’t have enough information to pursue a claim against this other driver, you’ll have to rely on other means to get compensation.
How to Get Compensation
In a car accident where the other driver is at fault, you’ll want to seek compensation from the other driver’s car insurance. When that’s not possible, these options may help.
You may have an add-on to your car insurance called Medical Payments (MedPay) and/or Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. These are “first-party” claims, meaning you file them with your own insurance carrier.
With MedPay, fault doesn’t matter–your insurance carrier will pay your claim no matter who caused the accident. However, MedPay won’t cover every form of injury, particularly where the damages exceed the policy limit.
Expenses covered by MedPay include:
- Doctor, rehabilitation, and hospital bills
- Ambulance, medical imaging (e.g., x-rays, MRIs), and medical equipment charges
- Temporary and long-term care
Even when the other driver is at fault in a hit-and-run accident, collision insurance will reimburse you for at least some damages. You will most likely have to pay a deductible, however.
Unlike MedPay, your insurer will not pay for medical bills. Collision insurance also will not cover property damage suffered by the other person.
Negligent Driver Insurance
Negligent driver insurance is optional in California. If you have chosen to pay for this added benefit, this policy will cover certain damages.
You must prove that the other driver acted negligently. This means they failed to act like a “reasonably prudent” person. In this case, you must show that a reasonably prudent person would not cause an accident and then flee the scene.
Uninsured Motorist Claim
If successful, an uninsured motorist claim can save you from paying your insurance deductible. To make the claim, you must know the other party’s insurance. In a hit-and-run, that will be challenging.
If you were able to note enough information about the other driver before they fled the scene, it may be possible to locate them by their license plate or by following up on witness leads.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Sue for a Hit-and-Run on a Parked Car?
Yes! Provided that only property damage occurs, this would be a misdemeanor hit-and-run.
What Type of Evidence is Needed to Convict in a Hit-and-Run?
This depends on whether the hit-and-run caused property versus bodily damage. But in general, the prosecutor must prove that the driver knew they caused bodily or property damage and then fled the scene purposefully.
Who Pays for Damages in a Hit-and-Run?
If you can track down the at-fault party, they will pay the damages. However, you can also obtain compensation from MedPay coverage, collision insurance, or negligent driver insurance.
Work With an Experienced Lawyer at Adamson Ahdoot
If you’ve lost your loved one or were injured in a hit-and-run accident, turn to our experienced lawyers for hit-and-run accidents at Adamson Ahdoot.
We will help you get the compensation you deserve and help you navigate the complexities of the legal system. Call us at (800) 310-1606 for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation.