Florida Hit and Runs Guide: What Victims Need to Know
Gregg Hollander | April 6, 2021 | Personal Injury
Hit-and-run accidents plague Florida. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, about 600,000 hit-and-run crashes occurred in Florida between 2015 and 2020. In recent years, Florida has averaged over 100,000 hit-and-run car accidents every year.
These accidents became such a problem that Florida amended its hit-and-run statute three times between 2017 and 2020. As a result of these amendments, Florida now imposes stiff penalties for hit-and-run accidents that result in deaths or personal injuries.
If a hit-and-run accident results in an injury, the least severe charge a hit-and-run driver faces under Florida law is a third-degree felony. Conviction of a third-degree felony can result in a jail sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.
Every hit-and-run accident has victims. Victims need compensation for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. In a hit-and-run accident, the people that are injured in the accident are often unable to hold the at-fault driver responsible.
Here is a guide for victims of hit-and-run accidents.
What is a Hit-and-Run Accident?
The term “hit and run” does not appear in Florida’s vehicle code. Instead, the law imposes several duties on drivers involved in accidents. Failure to uphold these duties violates the law and would constitute a hit-and-run.
Here is what all drivers must do after they are involved in an accident.
Stop the Vehicle
When a collision occurs, the driver must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash. When drivers cannot stop their vehicles at the crash scene, they must stop as close to the crash site as possible.
After a crash, drivers must render reasonable assistance to anyone injured in the collision. This would entail driving any person who needs or requests treatment to get medical care.
The driver can also satisfy this duty by arranging for transportation of the injured person to a medical facility. Typically, the driver does this by calling paramedics.
The driver must give identifying information to the other people involved in the accident.
The identifying information that drivers must provide includes:
- Vehicle registration number
- License plate number
- Insurance carrier
Drivers must also show their driver’s license to the other drivers and any police officer that responds to the accident.
Why Do Hit-and-Run Accidents Occur?
Hit-and-run accidents typically happen because one of the drivers involved in the accident faces severe penalties if they are caught at the scene of the accident.
Some examples of problems that might cause a driver to flee the scene of an accident include:
- Unlicensed driver
- Uninsured driver
- Outstanding warrants
- Stolen vehicle
- Intoxicated driver
Drivers in these situations might believe that the cost of staying far outweighs the cost of fleeing, so they leave the scene of the accident.
By far, lack of insurance constitutes the most common reason drivers leave the scene of an accident. Florida has the sixth-highest percentage of uninsured motorists nationwide. Over 20% of Florida drivers lack auto insurance.
Hit-and-Run Accidents Under Florida’s No-Fault Insurance System
For minor accidents, insurers handle a hit-and-run accident in much the same way as they would handle any other accident. Florida uses a no-fault insurance system.
In no-fault states like Florida, people that are injured in a car accident file a claim with their own insurer, regardless of who caused the accident. The insurers only pay the claims of their customers.
No-fault systems resolve claims faster than at-fault systems. In an at-fault system, the insurers must determine fault for the accident before paying claims. In no-fault systems, insurers do not need to determine fault. Instead, they simply pay claims for injuries of their own insured that were caused by the accident.
No-fault systems have a major drawback. Insurers cap the amount they pay for bodily injury based on your policy limits. If you buy the minimum insurance in Florida, you only receive $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. This is designed to cover your own injuries after an accident.
If your medical claims exceed your policy limits, you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver for your unpaid medical bills. For example, if you have $10,000 in PIP coverage, but your medical bills total $22,000, you can sue the at-fault driver for $12,000.
No-Fault Insurance and Hit-and-Run Accidents
If your damages from the hit-and-run accident do not exceed your policy limits, your insurer will pay your injury claim under your PIP coverage. Suppose that a driver hits your vehicle and leaves before giving you the required information. You would file a claim with your auto insurer under Florida’s no-fault system.
Your insurance carrier would pay for the injuries you sustained in the accident because, under Florida’s no-fault system, it must pay you regardless of fault. Thus, as long as your damages are less than your policy limits, your insurer would pay your entire hit-and-run claim.
The problem arises when your damages exceed your policy limits. Since the other driver left the accident scene without providing any information, you would have no recourse to sue the at-fault driver.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Florida does not require drivers to purchase uninsured motorist coverage. However, the state requires insurers to offer uninsured motorist coverage. Florida also requires them to bundle uninsured motorist coverage with PIP coverage. If a driver does not want uninsured motorist coverage, the driver must reject it in writing.
Importantly, insurers in Florida will cover damages caused by hit-and-run drivers under your uninsured motorist coverage. In other words, insurers equate “unidentified driver” with “uninsured driver” for purposes of uninsured motorist coverage. This means that you can claim benefits under your uninsured motorist coverage once you exceed your PIP policy limits.
Recovering Fair Compensation for a Hit-and-Run Accident
After a hit-and-run accident, you will need to file a claim with your auto insurer. You might expect to have an easier time dealing with your own insurer. But insurance companies never rush to pay claims, even for their own customers.
You will need to document your claim thoroughly and make sure that the police report accurately describes the accident as a hit-and-run. Insurers are often skeptical of hit-and-run accidents. Having a police record of the accident can also help law enforcement find the at-fault driver, which can help you recover fair compensation for your claim.