Hit and Run Accidents: What to Do

Print out this page and put it in your glove compartment. In case you're in a hit and run incident, the guidelines below can help you through it.

What To Do Immediately

  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. If you’re driving, stop your vehicle if it is clear, safe and legal and turn off the ignition. Pull over to the side of the road, if possible.

    WHN TIP: Be Safe, Be Smart

    Do not chase the other vehicle – it could be very dangerous. You don’t know why they sped off…they could have just robbed a bank, for instance.

    >Grab a pen and paper and write down quick details of what happened. Write down the details of the other car, license plate number, direction the car went in (if known) and so on. Also, write down the date, time and your location. You'll need this for records and to call 911.
    • Don't know where you are? Look for road signs, landmarks, mile markers, exit numbers and so on. These pieces of info might be helpful for the dispatcher.
  3. Call 911 immediately. Include the exact location, number of vehicles and people involved, and describe any injuries. DO NOT leave the scene.
    • No cell phone? Ask a witness to make the call. Be sure to get their contact information in case the police or insurance company needs to speak with them later.
    • Think someone needs medical help right away? Tell the 911 operator what’s happening and take advice from them.
  4. If you've called the police and an officer is on the way, get your license, insurance information and registration ready, if you can. Be safe and be smart.
  5. Look for witnesses and ask them to stay on the scene. The police will most likely ask them a few questions about what they saw. If possible, get contact information from witnesses:
    • Witness #1 /Name/Phone/E-mail
    • Witness #2 /Name/Phone/E-mail
    • Witness #3 /Name/Phone/E-mail
    • Witness #4 /Name/Phone/E-mail
  6. Begin taking photographs
    • If you have a camera/camera phone/PDA in your car and it is accessible, begin taking pictures of the accident site before vehicles are moved (vehicles and any property they may have been damaged).
    • If someone is uncomfortable handing over their camera/camera phone/PDA, ask them to take pictures for you. Be sure to get their complete contact information (e-mail, mail and work phone).
    • Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster.

    WHN TIP: Date/Time

    Remember to turn on the “date/time” feature on your camera before snapping shots. That way you can prove that the photos were taken at that time.

  7. Check out the damage on your car. Look for any signs of paint, broken glass or car body parts near your own car. These could be valuable clues for the police.
  8. Make (or have someone draw) a quick diagram of the accident site:
    • Streets, traffic signs, any obstacles in the road — anything that provides details of the accident
    • All directions of travel (for cars) and lane directions (one ways, etc.)
    • Where the vehicle occupants were seated (both cars)
    • Landmarks in the area that might help you later to determine where the vehicles came to rest.
  9. Call a tow truck company if your car looks to be inoperable or needs repairs.
  10. Before you allow a tow truck driver to pick up your car, be sure to ask the driver how much it will cost and tell the driver where to take the car (i.e. body shop, mechanic, your home). Write down:
    • Name of driver and company
    • Company address
    • Tow truck license plate number
    • Phone number

When The Police Arrive

WHN TIP: Be Patient

Depending on the amount of damage involved, the police may take a while to respond to the scene or they may not report to the scene at all. Other cases might be of higher priority than yours at the moment.

Provide the police with as much information about the hit-and-run incident as you can:

  1. Describe what happened, where you were, what time and so forth.
  2. Give a good description of the other car if you saw it:
    • License plate number (even if it’s the first or last 3 numbers/letters – that could help)
    • Direction of travel after the incident
    • Type of car (truck, van, sedan, convertible, etc.)
    • Make, model and color of the car
    • 4 door vs. 2 door
    • Any detailing, unusual markings
    • Any missing parts, cracks or dents
    • If there were white letters on the tires or colored hubcaps
    • Any other useful information
  3. Give a good description of the driver and occupants (how many were there, male or female, etc.), if you can.
  4. Write down the police officers’ and emergency workers’ contact details (Some officers carry business cards):
    • Police Officer Name/Badge Number
    • Police Officer Name/Badge Number
    • Paramedic Name/Badge Number

On-Site Medical Treatment

  1. An ambulance on the scene: emergency personnel will need to check for neck pain, shoulder pain from the seat belt, and chest pain from the airbags. Allow yourself to be examined, even if you think you’re okay. Injuries may be undetectable to you right now. But should your condition change, refusal of treatment at the scene may be taken as evidence that the accident is not to blame for your pain. It is normal for pain to appear 1–2 days after an accident.
  2. If you are taken to the hospital: If possible, give your treating physician information about the accident as it relates to your injuries. Describe in detail all pain and discomfort, as well as your ability or inability to use injured area(s). Even minor physical problems should be mentioned; they may develop into serious injuries.
  3. If an ambulance arrives, but medical personnel decide not to take you to the hospital; make an appointment to have your doctor perform a thorough examination as soon after the accident as possible. Ask your doctor to write a letter to your insurance company explaining the findings of your examination and prescribing further care.
  4. No ambulance on the scene: Immediately seek medical examination on your own, even if you think you’re okay. Professionals may detect injuries or health problems you cannot. It is normal for pain to appear 1–2 days after an accident.

When You Get Home

WHN TIP: The Accident File

When you get home, make an "accident file." This will include all of your notes, contact information, messages, etc. This can be an envelope, file folder, binder — whatever works best for you.

  1. At home, write down exactly what happened. This will include all of the information you and witnesses gathered and the names and contact numbers of the people you spoke with. File this in your accident file.
  2. Keep a copy of everything. Police, lawyers and insurance companies may request copies (don't give away your last copy!).
  3. Consider another mode of transportation until your car has been repaired or you get a new car. (Some insurance policies include car rental fees, see next section.)

    WHN TIP: Public Transportation

    If there is a public transit system in your area and you’re new to the bus/train system, call their customer service line. Operators are trained to address the questions and concerns of first-time riders.

  4. If your accident happened close to home, pay attention to the cars in your area. If you notice a car with damage that might match up with your own car, write down the license plate number of that car and give the police a call.
  5. A few days after the incident, contact the police department to check on the status of your case, if they reported to the scene. Be sure to have your case number ready.
    • Ask to speak with the detective who is assigned to your case.
    • Introduce yourself, state your case number and when the incident took place.
    • Ask the detective about the status of your case. Is it open or closed?
    • If your case is open, ask if there are any possible suspects. Ask about the suspect's physical details or vehicle info.
    • Also ask if there is anything else that you can provide that could help the investigation.
    • Request a copy of the official police report for your records, if you haven't already done so.
    • Remember, the police will do their best to follow up on the case. However, it may not be possible to track down the other driver or car. Be patient.

If You Have Insurance

  1. When you get home or immediately after the accident, call (or have a family member or friend call) your insurance agent. Do this as soon as possible even if you're far from home and even if someone else caused the accident. Have the following items ready:
    • Your car insurance policy number
    • Your police case number
    • Your accident file with detailed information about the accident
    • The address of the location of your car (body shop, tow truck company, home, work, etc.)
  2. Read your insurance policy. The insurance process will be easier to navigate if you know the details of your coverage. Check your policy for specifics and document every action you take.
  3. Document and keep all conversations in your folder; they should all include the following:
    • Date and time of the phone call
    • Who you called or who called you (insurance agent, mechanic, police officers, doctor, attorney, etc).
    • Full name of the person you spoke with
    • List of the items and decisions discussed
    • Next steps, deadline for completion and who is responsible for each step
    • Your claim number
  4. Ask your agent how to proceed and what forms or documents will be needed to support your claim.
    • The insurance company may require a "proof of loss" form, as well as documents relating to your claim, such as medical and car repair bills/receipts and a copy of the police report.
    • Ask your agent if your policy covers the cost of a rental car while your car is being repaired. If so, ask the allowed time of the car rental (days, weeks, etc.) and what rental car agencies will be compatible with your policy coverage.
    • Ask if any information is needed from the police in order to process your claim. If so, what type of information?
    • Ask when someone from the insurance company will arrive to assess the damage.
      Date
      Time
      Name of insurance representative
      Contact number
  5. Supply the information your insurer needs.
    • Be sure you keep copies of what you are sending out — don’t give away your last copy!
    • Keep records of the expenses you incur. You may be reimbursed under your policy. This could include medical and hospital expenses, lost wages and at least part of your costs if you have to hire a temporary housekeeper. Ask your insurance agent if your policy covers this.
    • Regardless of policy coverage — keep records of your expenses.

    WHN TIP: Keep Copies

    Again, store copies of all paperwork in your folder, you may need to refer to it later. Keep copies of receipts and financial notes with your accident info, but in its own envelope in the folder.

The Car
  1. Do not have your car repaired until you have an attorney or representative from your insurance agency inspect the car. Confirm next steps with your insurance agency.
  2. Get an estimate for full repairs and replacement of all damage from the repair shop recommended by your insurance company. You may also get your own estimate, but your insurance company must approve it. You're entitled to have your car restored to full glory, not just patched up.
  3. Keep the receipts and bids.
  4. All of this information should be recorded in your file.

WHN TIP: What's "Totaled"?

If the total cost to repair your car exceeds a certain percentage of the insurance company's estimates of its worth, you car is considered a total loss or "totaled". Instead of covering the cost of repairs, the insurance company will pay you the car's actual cash value, minus any deductible you have with your coverage.

If You Don't Have Insurance

  1. Keep the police case number with you at all times.
  2. Consider another mode of transportation until your car has been repaired or you get a new car.
The Car
  1. With no insurance, repairing your car is up to you.
  2. Be sure to take pictures of the damage.
  3. If you retain an attorney, do not have your car repaired until the attorney inspects the car. Confirm next steps with your attorney.
  4. Get an estimate for full repairs and replacement of all damage, etc. from the repair shop you choose, or that you and your attorney agree upon.
  5. Keep the receipts.
  6. All of this information and process should be recorded in your file.

If You Were Injured

Injury Diary
  1. Date every entry you make — if you make several entries in a day, add the time of the entry.
  2. Your diary should contain:
    • Information and descriptions of your injuries.
    • A pain scale. Rate your injuries on a daily/hourly basis. For instance, no pain = 0 and excruciating pain = 10.
    • Information about how your injuries are affecting your ability to work (job performance), as well as any social and family events that you are unable to attend or participate in because of your injuries.
    • Detailed effects of your injuries on your normal daily routine.
    • Consider taking photographs of your injuries. Photos can help your claim and your case.
  3. Request a copy of the official police report for your medical records.

WHN TIP: Accident Folder

Ask your doctor’s office to start a personal injury sub-folder for you. Tell them all visits should be filed in this folder until further notice. This allows you to submit claims to your car insurance, rather than your medical insurance. The doctor’s office may need to copy your car insurance card.

Doctor Visits
  1. If appropriate, ask your doctor to write a letter to your insurance company explaining the findings of your examination and prescribing further care.
  2. Bring your accident folder each time you see the doctor. Record the following information:
    • Doctor’s Name
    • Specialty
    • Practice/Hospital Name
    • Date seen
    • Diagnosis/Care given
    • Next steps/appointment
  3. Note recovery efforts as well, including time spent in physical therapy or other treatment.
  4. Carry out your doctor’s orders.
  5. Document each visit in your “Injury Diary” and save copies of all notes and paperwork from your doctor in a single ‘accident’ folder.
  6. Remember, your doctor’s office should file all paperwork from accident-related visits in your subfolder. It’s okay to ask to see this folder to make sure it is up-to-date.

WHN TIP: Appointment Tracking

Don’t skip treatments or other medical appointments. This could be used as proof that you weren’t really injured. If you are tired or in pain, it’s okay to ask for help getting to your appointment.

WHN TIP: Just in Case!

Print this article out and place it in the car, so you will have it with you next time you drive.

Remember ...

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal or medical advice. These tips are from first responders, lawyers, insurance agents and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a doctor or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal or health-related decisions.

Thank you ...

A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.