Hit-and-run auto accidents happen far more frequently than you want to believe, and they happen as often on deserted suburban and rural roads as they happen in congested big-city traffic. Negligent or reckless drivers generally flee accident scenes because they have neither licenses nor insurance or because they are driving while intoxicated. In many hit-and-run cases, fugitive drivers face serious felony charges because they already are on probation or parole for previous offenses. One in six people will suffer serious injuries in a hit-and-run sometime during his or her lifetime, so that you should know what to do in case you become “the one”:
• Call police and emergency medical services. Call immediately, and then stay calm, assessing your own condition and the condition of other victims. Naturally, if you have sustained serious injuries, medical attention takes precedence over everything else. Especially in hit-and-run collisions between cars and pedestrians or bicyclists, check for brain and spinal cord injuries. If you or any of the victims lost consciousness even for a few seconds, you must have a doctor check for concussion and brain trauma. You may feel fine; in fact, adrenalin and endorphins may have revved-up your thoughts and perceptions to the level of preternatural clarity. Concussive injuries develop slowly, but they require immediate attention. Similarly, if you or any of the victims feels numbness or tingling sensations in arms and legs, take these as signals of spinal cord trauma. Nausea, headache, and loss of bowel and bladder control certainly signal spinal injuries. Immobilize these people until help arrives.
• Clarify your own memories. Hit-and-run accidents typically happen in well under a minute, and victims naturally say, “It all happened so fast, I just don’t know.” You do, in fact, remember more than you think. Take time to sit very quietly, breathe deeply as if you were meditating, and replay the accident in your mind’s eye, clarifying every single detail as much as possible. Even if your recollections contradict testimony from other witnesses, do not modify or revise what you remember. As you recollect, depend on your senses of smell and hearing at least as much as you count on your sight, because your nose and ears frequently gather strong triggers for visuals.
• Collect information from witnesses. You do not need to get full statements from the people who had clear view of the vehicle, the driver, and the events, but you must get their contact information, so that investigators can interview them later. Find out if any of the witnesses took pictures with their cellphone cameras, asking them to send you the pictures even if they aren’t exactly prizewinners. Also ask one of the witnesses to photograph you and your injuries with your own cellphone.
• Contact your insurance company. Get in touch with a claims agent as soon as possible after the accident. In fact, because claims agents work with accident victims all day every day, you may want to call the toll-free claims number right after you call emergency services. Experienced agents often can walk you through the process of coping with the accident until help arrives, and they can help you protect your legal rights as you cope with the accident’s aftermath. Find out what your insurance will cover, and ask whether or not your carrier expects you to seek treatment at one of the company’s preferred providers. If your auto insurance will not cover all your needs, consult your health insurance provider to find out what your medical policy allows. If vacation and sick pay do not cover lost work, make sure you file for standard disability insurance, too.
• Call a personal injury attorney. Police apprehend and charge well over half of all hit-and-run drivers, but they do not always have sufficient evidence to go forward with criminal cases; and, even if your hit-and-runner does pay fines and do a little time in county lock-up, you still should file personal injury claims against him. Moreover, in cases where police cannot find the bad guy, personal injury attorneys frequently have tools and resources to dig deeper into your case. When you do seek compensation and damages, a skilled personal injury attorney will use his knowledge of the law and the driver’s responsibilities to negotiate a settlement far larger than you could negotiate on your own.
If you have not reviewed your auto, health, and disability policies recently, you should. Because many cash-strapped families have reduced their car insurance coverage or simply have stopped paying their premiums, you cannot count on at-fault drivers to pay for your injuries and the costs of your recovery from any kind of auto accident. Therefore, make sure you have satisfactory uninsured motorist coverage. Just as importantly, work with AFLAC or another disability carrier to secure sufficient income protection that you can afford to miss several months of work if need arises.
Christopher Jensen is a writer and car enthusiast offering advice on how to get cheap auto insurance quotes for residents looking for low cost Mississippi auto insurance plans.