Hit and run accidents are extremely frustrating, and they can leave injury victims in serious trouble. If the police are unable to identify and track down the driver at-fault for your wreck, you have precious few options. In many cases, your only option will be to make a claim against your own insurance policy (using uninsured motorist insurance coverage, if you have it).
Why Drivers Flee the Scene of an Accident
Texas Law Once Encouraged Hit and Runs
There was once a loophole with the law in Texas that actually encouraged hit and run driver to flee the scene of a crash, since DWI drivers faced far greater penalties than those who fled the scene of a wreck.
The problem with this was that a lot of car wrecks occur late at night, often as a result of driver intoxication. As far as drunk drivers were concerned, it was better to flee the scene. That way, even if they were caught the next day, they'd be able to hide the fact that they were drunk when they hit their victim.
Other Reasons Drivers Might Flee the Scene
If they were the negligent driver responsible for causing the crash, they may flee the scene because they don't want to pay for the damage. Sometimes, however, drivers will flee the scene even if they aren't at-fault. In these cases, it is usually the case that the driver had something to hide. Perhaps they didn’t have a valid driver’s license, perhaps they were not insured, or maybe they were intoxicated, as mentioned above.
Texas Hit and Run Laws Have Changed
Thankfully, our law makers in Austin saw sense and introduced two bills to close these loopholes.
The First Bill: H.B. 3668
H.B. 3668 relates to a driver’s responsibility following an accident. It modifies Section 550.021(a) of the Texas Transportation Code as follows:
(a) The operator of a vehicle involved in an accident that results or is reasonably likely to result in injury or death of a person shall:
(1) immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close to the scene as possible;
(2) immediately return to the scene of the accident if the vehicle is not stopped at the scene of the accident;
(3) immediately determine whether a person is involved in the accident, and if a person is involved in the accident, whether that person requires aid; and
(4) remain at the scene of the accident until the operator complies with the requirements of Section 550.023.
The Second Bill: SB 275
SB 275 relates to the penalty for committing the criminal offense of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in a personal injury or fatality. It amends Section 550.021(c) of the Texas Transportation Code, so that it is becomes a felony of the second degree to flee a wreck that resulted in a fatality, and a felony of the third degree if it resulted in a serious bodily injury.
Consequences for Fleeing the Scene of an Accident
Under Texas law, if a person is involved in any kind of car, truck or motorcycle accident (regardless of whether or not they were at fault), they have an obligation to stop and make sure that all occupants of the other vehicle are unhurt. This is known as your "duty to render aid."
Fleeing the scene of an accident - or of any crime - is considered a third-degree felony in the State of Texas. This can be punishable from two to ten years, depending on the severity of the injuries that the person in the accident withstood.
What To Do After a Hit and Run Car Accident
All of the legalities are good and well, but it won't stop some drivers from breaking the law. If you’ve been hurt in an accident by a hit and run driver in Fort Worth, there are a few steps you should take.
Finding the Driver Who Hit You
First, there’s always the hope that the hit and run driver can be found. To tip the odds in your favor, you should immediately report the wreck to the police. Call 911 at the scene of the crime and tell the investigating police officer anything you can remember: license plate numbers, a description of the car, etc.
Filing a Claim Against Your Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Let's assume that the hit and run driver can’t be found. If you have uninsured motorist insurance (UIM), you can make a claim using it (as long as there’s been contact between the vehicles). Uninsured motorist insurance is exactly what it sounds like – insurance to cover you in the event that you’re hit by a driver who doesn’t have any of their own, or a driver who hits you and runs.
Do You Need a Hit and Run Attorney?
Hit and run cases tend to be complicated. There are often lots of unanswered questions, and insurance companies will use the holes to deny or undervalue your claim. However, with an experienced hit and run accident attorney on your side, you will greatly increase your odds of recovering the money you deserve for your medical bills, damages, lost income, pain and suffering.