While auto accidents are often stressful and scary situations, there are procedures in place to help us deal with the events; however, not all drivers choose to comply with these procedures. In the event the other party involved in the accident intentionally leaves the scene without providing their correct identity and contact information, they are essentially guilty of a “hit-and-run.”
Hit-and-runs can occur with another moving vehicle, a parked vehicle, a pedestrian or bicyclist, or an inanimate object. According to a study done by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than one hit-and-run crash occurs somewhere in the United States every minute. The number of hit-and-run incidents continues to rise on a yearly basis. Over 2,000 hit-and-run fatalities were reported in 2016.
As a result of the commonality of these types of accidents, it’s important to understand your rights under Maryland laws that are in place to protect victims of hit-and-runs. And while it’s a good idea to know what you should do if you’ve been in a hit-and-run, it’s even more important to know what not to do.
Let’s take a look at the hit-and-run laws in Maryland.
Hit-and-Run Laws in Maryland
Maryland has strict consequences in place in the event someone flees the scene of a car wreck. Drivers who leave a scene after inflicting property damage may face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. They can also have up to eight points added to their license – which will cause them to lose their license.
If a driver leaves a scene that resulted in physical injuries, the penalties are even stricter. The law in place states that the negligent driver can face felony charges resulting in up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted. If the accident results in death, the negligent driver may face up to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Leaving the scene of an accident may also be admissible in a civil action to prove negligence if the at-fault driver is located. If not, then the accident is classified as one caused by a “phantom driver” and is considered a “no fault” uninsured motorist claim against the insurance covering the vehicle that was hit. Provided there is evidence that the accident was caused by another motorist or person whose identity is unknown and cannot be discovered through reasonable effort, an uninsured motorist claim will be accepted and processed as if the at-fault driver had insurance to cover the loss.
Knowing that you have an insurance remedy when hit by a “phantom driver” can help you know what to do and what not to do after such an accident occurs.
Call 911 immediately to report the accident and the description and direction of the vehicle that left the scene. Particularly when the accident has occurred on a state highway, the Maryland State Police will respond almost immediately by dispatching troopers to subsequently portions of the highway to locating the fleeing vehicle and to monitor and review footage from highway cameras at or near the scene of the accident.
911 calls are recorded so what you communicate to the operator will prove useful in proving that the accident occurred and the details you described immediately after the accident occurred.
Move your vehicle off the highway if possible. Under no circumstances should you leave your vehicle in a travel lane of the highway. The police do not need to see where your vehicle was struck and will rely on what you tell them and what they observe in terms of damage to your vehicle. A motorist who leaves their vehicle in a travel lane is exposed to a very high chance of being hit by oncoming traffic.
Stay off the highway and out of view of other drivers if possible. Remain in your vehicle until the police arrive. Standing outside your vehicle creates driver distraction that could result in you being struck by an oncoming vehicle. Do not stand or sit on or near your vehicle. If you cannot remain inside safely, exit the vehicle and move to a safe location off the highway beyond a guardrail or shoulder.
Do not go after the driver. Do not, under any condition, follow the driver responsible for your accident, particularly if he or she is driving irradicably or at high speeds. If you are able, follow the vehicle just long enough to get the tag number but remember to make a mental note of exactly where the accident occurred. Never pull next to a fleeing vehicle or attempt to disable that vehicle by striking it. Those who flee the scene of an accident often have a reason to flee and could be armed.
Do not panic. Immediately following the accident, you’ll likely be confused and overwhelmed. Try to remain calm but also try to make a mental note of the sequence of the accident. Once you are out of harm’s way, jot down a few notes that will help you recall the events when called upon to do so by the police, an insurance representative, or a court. When you “present sense impressions” of how the accident occurred and what you observed, this information is usually considered admissible evidence in court.
Do not ignore your injuries. Even if you don’t feel injured, it may be a good idea to be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible. Car accident injuries like whiplash can take days or even weeks to manifest, and by then you may be facing more serious effects.
Do not forget to file a police report. If you decide to continue your travels rather than stopping at or near the scene and reporting the accident real-time, be sure to file a police report as soon as possible after the accident occurred. In Baltimore, you have the option to file a hit-and-run report online if you don’t know who caused the accident, there are no witnesses, and there is no other evidence to connect a driver with the accident. If any such evidence exists, however, you should make the report in person.
Notify your insurance company if you have no reliable information as to the other driver’s identity. As stated earlier, hit-and-run accidents are usually covered by your own uninsured motorist coverage. You should report the accident as soon as possible after it occurs, although you should consider retaining an experienced car wreck lawyer before giving any recorded statements to any insurance company.
Dealing with an insurance company after an accident can be difficult because of the policy coverage and evidence needed to support receiving compensation for a hit-and-run accident. In order to receive the financial compensation you deserve, you should seek experienced legal representation. Reach out to us today for a free evaluation of your claim.