13 Steps After a Hit-and-Run Accident

by Susan Evans

Print out Car Accident-Another Driver Involved 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.

WHN TIP – Advice from Experts: Listen to this podcast for tips on how to describe a suspect.

“Car accidents are common, which unfortunately means that hit-and-run accidents are also common. And don’t think such accidents are only between cars, either. Approximately 16% of pedestrian-car crashes are actually hit-and-runs,” writes Stephanie Rabiner in “5 Things to Do When You’re a Hit-and-Run Victim.”

Step 1: Follow “Safety First” procedures.

  • If you are able to move the car, pull over to a safe spot, turn on your hazard lights (flashers) and stop before calling for help.
  • Be watchful of the potential for additional accidents caused by the first accident.
  • Stay out of the path of oncoming vehicles.
  • Do NOT leave the scene.
  • Get your license, insurance information and registration ready, if you can.

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.

Step 2: Write down the needed information.

  • Location of the emergency
  • Road name or number
  • City, State
  • Closest cross street or off-ramp, milepost or other identifiers
  • Direction of travel: yours and the other drivers
  • Any distinguishing landmarks
  • Details of the other car:
    • 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
  • Any injuries you or your passengers sustained.
  • Names and contact information for any 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

Step 3: Call the appropriate agency.

  • On a highway? Call the State Highway Patrol for that state.
  • Some states have special cellphone-only numbers to report highway/vehicle-related problems such vehicle breakdowns/problems, accidents, hazardous material spills, or other highway hazards/problems, as well as impaired or aggressive/reckless drivers and other criminal behavior.
  • Not sure whom to call? Call 9-1-1 — the universal emergency number in the United States. Using your mobile phone? Follow this advice from the FCC:
    • Tell the emergency operator the location of the emergency right away.
    • Provide the emergency operator with your wireless phone number, so if the call gets disconnected, the emergency operator can call you back.
    • If your wireless phone is not “initialized” (meaning you do not have a contract for service with a wireless service provider), and your emergency call gets disconnected, you must call the emergency operator back because the operator does not have your telephone number and cannot contact you.
  • 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.

Step 4: Describe the nature of the emergency.

  • Explain exactly what happened. Stick to the facts: don’t embellish.
  • Think someone needs medical help right away? Tell the 911 operator what’s happening and take advice from them.

Step 5: Begin taking photographs and drawing sketches.

  1. Don’t be shy. Ask bystanders for what you need: pen, paper (napkins can work in a pinch) and a camera or their cell phone to take pictures.
    • If someone is uncomfortable handing over their camera or cell phone, ask them to take pictures for you. Be sure to get their contact information (name, e-mail, phone number) so they can send you the pictures later. If they are using their phone, give them your contact information so they email or text the images.
  2. Begin taking photographs. Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the accident. Take pictures of the accident site before vehicles are moved (vehicles and any property they may have damaged, etc.).

WHN Expert TIP – Car and Scene: “Take pictures of the car and of the scene itself,” says Dave Mannato, Matador Insurance Agency, Latham, NY. “Also, take a picture of the other car because claim reps will need to know the color and license plate of the other car so be sure to get the license plate of the other vehicle(s) involved.” Your photos should show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster.

WHN TIP – It’s All Important: Don’t take the time to consider noteworthiness. You may not be able to see the importance of, a broken tail light for instance, but it could help a professional reconstruct the accident.

WHN TIP – Expert Tip: Keep Copies. “Keep copies [of your photos] for your records,” says Mannato. “You may need them should some get lost, to show to a lawyer [or an insurance agent] or if the case goes to trial one day.”

WHN TIP – Listen and Write: Listen carefully to what the other driver(s) say(s) about the events leading up to the accident, e.g. “I didn’t see you,” and write it down. This is also why you should be very careful with what you say.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Call a tow truck company if your car looks to be inoperable or needs repairs. Before it’s dispatched, ask what it will cost to tow your car to the next destination (i.e. body shop, mechanic, your home). When the tow truck arrives, write down the following:
    • Name of driver and company
    • Company address
    • Tow truck license plate number
    • Phone number

WHN TIP – Towing Coverage? Call your insurance company. You may have towing service coverage.

Step 6: Provide key information to the police.

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: what happened, where you were, what time and any other details.
  • Give a good description of the other car, referring to the notes you made as well as any details about the driver and any occupants in that car (how many, male or female, anything else).
  • 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

Step 7: Get medical care.

  • If  an ambulance is 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If no ambulance arrives 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.

Step 8: Create an accident file 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. Or you can go digital: scan them and save them to your computer or to the cloud.

  • Start a file for details about the accident and any subsequent treatment, information or claims.
  • 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.
  • Keep a copy of everything. Police, lawyers and insurance companies may request copies (don’t give away your last copy!).
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

Step 9: If you have insurance, contact your insurance company.

  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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

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
  • 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. Or scan them all for easy access.

Step 10: Find out about vehicle repair.

  • Do not have your vehicle repaired until you have an attorney or representative from your insurance agency inspect the car. Confirm next steps with your insurance agency.
  • 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.
    • Keep the receipts and bids.
    • Record all of this information 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.

Step 11: No insurance? Prepare for the post-accident tasks, keeping all the information and process in your file.

  • Keep the police case number with you at all times.
  • Consider another mode of transportation until your car has been repaired or you get a new car.
  • Vehicle repair: With no insurance, repairing your car is up to you.
    • Be sure to take pictures of the damage.
    • If you retain an attorney, do not have your car repaired until the attorney inspects the car. Confirm next steps with your attorney.
    • 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.
    • Keep the receipts.

Step 12: If you were injured, keep an injury diary.

  • Date every entry you make — if you make several entries in a day, add the time of the entry.
  • 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.
      1. 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.

Step 13: Seek follow-up medical care.

  • If appropriate, ask your doctor to write a letter to your insurance company explaining the findings of your examination and prescribing further care.
  • 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
    • Note recovery efforts as well, including time spent in physical therapy or other treatment.
    • Carry out your doctor’s orders.
    • Document each visit in your “Injury Diary” and save copies of all notes and paperwork from your doctor in a single ‘accident’ folder.
    • 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.

Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures

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