What To Do After A Hit-And-Run Accident In Texas
Any car crash can bring your drive through Texas to a brutal, shocking halt. A hit and run accident adds an extra layer of apprehension. In a normal collision, there’s another driver to share the trauma and the experience as you begin sorting out the inevitable details. When the other driver flees the scene, you’re stunned and alone.
Sadly, hit and run accidents are incredibly common. Knowing what to do if you’re ever involved in one of these crashes is important. They can bring practical hardships, financial difficulties, and life-changing consequences. Understanding the hit and run laws in Texas prepares you to make smart choices in a high-pressure situation. It can help you stay safer and protect your legal rights.
What Does Texas Law Say About Hit and Run Accidents?
Chapter 550 of the Texas Transportation Code catalogs the responsibilities of any driver involved in a motor vehicle accident. The statute spells out various scenarios. Notably, there is no situation where a driver is allowed to simply drive away.
If there are other people involved, drivers have a responsibility to remain at the scene and offer any needed aid while they wait for authorities to arrive. If the accident damages an unattended vehicle or a structure on a roadway, the driver has a responsibility to try and find the owner. If their good faith efforts fail, then they may leave a note with contact information in a prominent location. This law covers highways, public places, roadways owned by a water control and improvement district, and parking lots. Therefore, striking a car parked in the store’s lot without stopping would be a hit and run in parking lot. The driver at fault could face serious consequences for leaving the scene of an accident.
What Is the Penalty for Hit and Run Accidents?
Leaving the scene of an accident is no small matter. The penalty for hit and run accidents depends on the severity of the accident.
Drivers who flee the scene of a fatal accident can face a second-degree felony charge. This is punishable by two to 20 years in prison. In addition, they may be fined up to $10,000.
Drivers who run from an accident that causes serious bodily injury, as defined by Section 1.07 of the Penal Code, face a third-degree felony. This carries a punishment of two to 10 years. A fine of up to $10,000 is also possible.
When injuries are present but less serious, drivers found guilty of hitting and running may be jailed for up to five years. Alternatively, they may be fined up to $5,000. Or, they may be punished with both time behind bars and a fine.
If the hit and run collision involves an unattended vehicle or structure, it’s deemed a misdemeanor. The penalty depends on the cost of the damage. If damage exceeds $200, it’s a Class B misdemeanor. The driver is subject to up to 180 days of confinement and fines of $2000. For damages less than $200, it’s considered a Class C misdemeanor. The guilty party will receive a fine of no more than $500.
What Should You Do If You’re Involved in a Hit and Run Accident?
If you’re involved in an accident, you are required by Texas law to take the following actions:
- Offer aid to any injured person. This includes calling for an ambulance.
- Exchange information when asked. This means sharing your driver’s license and insurance information.
- Wait for a police officer to arrive when they’re requested.
What does this mean if you’re involved in a hit and run accident? Don’t leave the scene. Watching the other driver flee can be maddening. However, remaining at the scene is your legal responsibility, so do not attempt to follow, chase, or detain them. Doing so could put you in harm’s way. It could also create legal headaches for you. Instead, begin making moves that will protect your health, safety, and legal rights.
Seek Medical Attention
When you’ve been obviously hurt, the need for medical attention is a clear priority. However, adrenaline and shock can often mask injuries, and it is not uncommon for problems to take days or even weeks to appear. Even if you believe that you escaped unharmed or with only minor injuries, it’s best to see a medical professional for a thorough evaluation as soon as possible. Any injuries should be documented carefully. These records can lead to better health outcomes and solid evidence as you build a legal case.
Call the Police to File a Report
Texas law requires drivers to report any accident that causes injury or damage greater than $1,000 within 10 days. Since this applies to all but the most minor of collisions, calling an officer and filing your report immediately ensures that the report won’t get forgotten in the aftermath of the crash. It also helps to gather the details while they’re fresh.
After a hit and run accident, don’t leave before speaking with the officer who is completing your report. Try to provide as much detail as possible about the other vehicle and driver. Can you describe the vehicle’s make, model, or color? Did you catch part of its license plate? Did you notice if it had any damage? Did you see which direction it took when it left the scene? Can you describe the driver? If there are witnesses, connecting them with the officer will also be helpful.
Chronicle the Crash
If you are able to do so safely, use your phone to chronicle the crash. Take pictures of the damage to your car, any debris, your injuries, and your surroundings. Don’t forget to look for skid marks in the road or obstructions that may have contributed to the crash. Weather or environmental conditions can also be factors, so documenting them can be smart. You can also use a notetaking app to record your impressions of the other car and driver and what happened. Always be mindful of your safety as you’re documenting the scene.
Connect With Witnesses
If anyone else saw the collision, try to connect with these witnesses. They may remember details that you don’t, which could help identify the other driver. Take statements whenever possible, and collect their contact information. The evidence provided by eyewitnesses can be invaluable as you work to build the facts of your case and deal with insurance companies.
Alert Your Insurance Company
Most insurance companies require policyholders to inform them if they’ve been in an accident as soon as possible after the incident. Since a hit and run frequently means that you’ll need to make a claim against your own insurance company, you’ll want to be certain that you’re following the proper procedures.
Be careful when speaking to your insurance company. You might expect them to be on your side, but their priority is their profit margin. If you are filing a claim against them, they won’t be focused on your best interests.
Reach Out to a Hit and Run Lawyer
Hit and run cases are complex, and you deserve a knowledgeable ally who can assist you in safeguarding your rights as you review your options to determine the best path forward. An experienced hit and run attorney is an excellent resource, so you’ll want to reach out as soon as possible.
In an ideal world, you would be able to concentrate on healing. Unfortunately, in the real world, life moves quickly, and there are always deadlines to worry about. There’s also a risk that evidence could disappear if steps aren’t taken to preserve it. Working with a knowledgeable hit and run lawyer gives you someone on your side who knows what needs to be done to protect your interests and maximize your compensation so that you can minimize the disruption and focus on your recovery.
How Do I Deal With the Consequences of Hit and Run Accidents?
Even when you do everything right, the consequences of a hit and run accident can still be troublesome. Like any motor vehicle crash, it could leave you dealing with a damaged vehicle and serious injuries that could interfere with your ability to work now or in the future.
Securing compensation for your damages and funds for your medical bills and care is key. Normally, you can approach the at-fault driver and their insurance company. If police are able to identify the hit and run motorist, that may be possible in your case. Unfortunately, many hit and run cases go unsolved. Cases that are solved often identify culprits with insufficient assets to compensate their victims.
If authorities are unable to locate the driver who fled the scene of your crash, or the driver doesn’t have enough coverage, you’ll be forced to turn to other sources of coverage. There are a few possibilities:
- Uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is normally part of your auto insurance policy. It acts as liability insurance if another driver is unidentified, uninsured, or underinsured. Unless you declined it in writing, your policy should include it.
- Personal injury protection. This “no-fault” coverage is for lost wages and medical bills. However, it won’t cover less tangible costs like pain and suffering or trauma. It is also a part of your auto insurance policy unless you’ve declined it.
- Other insurance. Depending on the circumstances, you may rely on health insurance or disability benefits.
How Can a Hit and Run Attorney Assist Me?
Hit and run attorneys can offer invaluable assistance in dealing with the consequences of hit and run accidents. They know the systems and how to navigate them, so they can help in numerous ways:
- Investigating the crash. An attorney can verify that evidence is being preserved, seek out other sources of information like cameras or additional witnesses, review reports for inaccuracies, and work with experts to analyze available evidence.
- Assisting with your vehicle’s restoration. Your vehicle may need repairs. Even if it is totaled, there will be a period of time when you are awaiting the insurance company’s decision. During that time, a lawyer can help you evaluate your options. They may also aid you in securing a rental car to help minimize the disruption in your life.
- Pinpointing sources of insurance coverage. A lawyer can help you identify which policies are relevant and how much coverage you can expect.
Receiving medical care. Legal experts can aid you in seeking out needed medical care and instruct you on how to document that care properly. They’ll also work with various medical professionals to review your records to determine what level of compensation is appropriate to cover your expenses and any losses you have suffered from your injuries now and in the future.
- Negotiating with the insurance company. Dealing with your insurance company can be draining and stressful. A lawyer knows how to push for the best settlement. If the insurer refuses to offer a reasonable deal, they can also represent you in court.
Car crashes can have life-changing consequences, so taking the time to learn what to do after a hit and run accident in Texas is a good start. However, these types of crashes are complicated. To get the best result and the maximum compensation, enlist the aid of a skilled hit and run attorney.