Hit-and-run car accidents occur more often than you might imagine in North Carolina. They involve drivers who hit other drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists or pedestrians and flee the scene without rendering aid or waiting for the police to arrive. Many drivers leave because they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and they fear an arrest. Others may fail to stop because they don’t have any insurance.
If you were recently involved in a hit-and-run accident in Goldsboro, Kinston, Fayetteville or surrounding areas, you should know the law that applies to these accidents. You should also understand your rights and options for pursuing compensation – and the steps you should take to protect those options.
What Is North Carolina’s Duty to Stop Law?
Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-166, any driver who knows or reasonably should know that he or she caused an accident that caused injury or death to another person must stay at the scene until a law enforcement officer arrives, completes an investigation and lets the driver leave. The only exception is when staying at the scene would put the driver or others at significant risk of injury. However, even then, the driver would still need to return with his or her car “within a reasonable period of time” unless the officer authorized otherwise. If a person willfully fails to do so, they can face a Class H felony if the accident causes serious injury or death, or a Class F felony if it causes other injury.
In addition to simply staying at the scene, the driver must:
- Give his or her name, address, driver’s license number and the license plate number of the vehicle to the person that the person struck.
- Render “reasonable assistance” to the person such as calling for medical assistance.
If a driver fails to meet those requirements, the driver could face a Class 1 misdemeanor charge.
If a driver causes an accident that the driver knows or reasonably should know caused property damage of $1,000 or more, the driver must stay at the scene as well until a police officer arrives, completes an investigation and tells the driver that he or she can leave. Again, the driver can leave if staying at the scene would put the driver or others at significant risk of injury. However, the driver must still return with his or her car “within a reasonable period of time” unless an officer tells the driver something different. A willful violation of this law could lead to a Class 1 misdemeanor charge.
What Are Your Legal Options After a Hit-and-Run Crash in North Carolina?
If you are involved in a hit-and-run crash in North Carolina, your options for seeking compensation may depend on whether the other driver is caught.
If police catch the driver, then you should be able to pursue compensation for your bodily injury and property damage through that driver’s liability insurance. If the driver caused the crash due to a violation of the law – driving while impaired, speeding or engaging in some other form of reckless driving, for instance – then you may be able to establish the driver’s negligence as a matter of law, or negligence per se.
However, if the driver lacks insurance or lacks enough insurance to cover all of your losses, you may need to file a claim through your own uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. UM will cover your losses up to your policy’s limits. UIM will cover the difference between what the at-fault driver’s insurance covers and your total losses – again, up to your policy’s limits.
If the police cannot catch the other driver, you may be able to file a hit-and-run accident claim through your own UM coverage. This is true if you were hit by a driver who fled the scene while you were driving, walking or riding a bicycle.
However, you should know that North Carolina follows what is called the “No Contact Rule.” In other words, to be eligible for compensation in a hit-and-run accident claim, you would need to show that another vehicle actually made contact with you. If you cannot show that there was any contact with another vehicle, your insurance company can deny your hit-and-run insurance claim.
What Steps Should You Take First After a Hit-and-Run Crash?
So, as you can see, if a driver who hits you flees the scene in violation of North Carolina law, you may still be able to recover compensation for your losses – regardless of whether police ever catch the driver. However, you should try to take the following steps in order to protect your ability to pursue those options:
- Call the police. The sooner you call the police, the greater the chance that the police can track down and identify the driver. Also, the police will prepare an accident report. Your insurance company may require you to provide a copy of the report in order to file a claim. Generally, you should contact the police immediately after the accident or within 24 hours of it (at the latest).
- Notify your insurer. You should tell your insurer as soon as possible that you have been involved in an accident. Your insurer may require you to report the accident within a “reasonable time” after it happens, or within a few days. If you fail to comply with the policy’s requirements, the insurer may deny your claim.
- Get medical attention. For the sake of your health, you should see a doctor as soon as possible after an accident. A doctor will know how to examine you and order tests in order to determine if you have any injuries. If you wait too long to see a doctor, an insurer may try to argue that you were not hurt in the accident, or that your injuries are not as severe as you claim.
Get Help from a North Carolina Hit-and-Run Accident Attorney Today
As you move forward after a hit-and run crash, the most important step you take will be to get help from an experienced car accident lawyer. The lawyer will know what steps to take on your behalf in order to pursue the maximum amount of compensation for you. The lawyer will also know how to protect you when dealing with insurance companies. To learn more, contact Strickland Agner Pittman today and receive a free consultation about your case.