Hit-and-Run Accidents: Are You Covered?

Hit-and-Run Accidents: Are You Covered?
March 28, 2014 jamesludlow

If someone causes an accident, you expect them to stop, exchange information, and wait for the police. What happens though if the other driver doesn’t stop and simply drives off?  If you can’t chase them or you listen to that voice that says chasing someone who could be an armed criminal might not be wise, will your insurance coverage pay for your injuries and property damage?

It all depends on the terms and conditions of your insurance policy. It could be as simple as what the insurance company has defined as a “hit-and-run” accident.

There are generally two types of cases where an individual flees the accident scene. One type is the “hit-and-run” where the driver actually collides with the victim’s vehicle and then flees. The other is a “near miss” where there is not an actual collision, but the victim wrecks trying to avoid hitting the other driver.

Most insurance companies will cover a claim where there is physical contact between the hit-and-run vehicle and the victim’s vehicle. However, very few policies provide coverage when there is no physical contact between the hit-and-run vehicle and the victim’s vehicle. This remains true even when there are independent witnesses to the accident.

Hit-and-run accidents by definition involve a driver whose identity is unknown. In such cases, neither the victim nor their insurers have any way of knowing if such a driver was insured. Therefore, some insurers attempt to limit these claims by saying that they include hit-and-run coverage in their policies, but only if the hit-and-run vehicle or driver can be identified.

This raises an interesting question of exactly how can an innocent victim “identify” a hit-and-run driver?  Is a license plate number sufficient or just a general description of the vehicle?  In Indiana, thus far, it appears that just a general description of the other motorist is sufficient, unless the policy has a specific language which says otherwise.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on this question in the 2006 case of Gillespie v. GEICO General Insurance, 850 N.E.2d 913 (Ind. App. 2006). In Gillespie, the injured victim insured by GEICO was badly injured by a Caucasian woman who was driving a white Honda SUV.  Unfortunately, the woman in the Honda sped off, and no one was able to identify her.  Although the GEICO policy said it included “hit-and-run” coverage, GEICO denied the claim. Their reasoning was that the individual’s policy provided coverage only when the owner or operator of the hit-and-run vehicle could be identified.

In terms of the policy, what exactly does the term “identified” mean?

After considering the language of the GEICO policy, the court sided with Mr. Gillespie and ruled that because GEICO did not define what the word “identified” in their policy specifically meant, the description of a Caucasian woman driving a white Honda SUV was sufficient “identification.”  Therefore, GEICO had to provide coverage to Mr. Gillespie for the accident.

This hot-button topic appears to be a prevalent issue among the court systems. In fact, the Indiana Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in a different case later this year regarding this same topic. Hopefully, the continued controversy surrounding this subject will encourage insurance companies to further define the conditions required to accept a hit-and-run accident claim.

Insurance policies and law concerning hit and run and miss and run crashes are complex. The best advice in such cases is to call our experienced attorneys for an evaluation of your claim and how we can help.  The consultation is free, and there is never a fee unless we first make a financial recovery for you. Please call the offices of Indiana Car Accident Attorney James Ludlow at 1-877-897-9466, or submit the simple form on the Contact Us page for a free case evaluation and put my experience and knowledge to work for you.