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How to make a car insurance claim for a hit-and-run accident

hit-and-run-accidentsIf you've ever been the victim of a hit-and-run accident, you may have experienced panic and confusion, even downright anger. But staying level-headed is essential -- especially when making a car insurance claim.

Unfortunately, even if the accident was not your fault, be prepared to pay some out-of-pocket costs if your car suffered damage. If you only carry liability coverage, your auto insurance company will not pay for the damages to your car. Your only recourse will be to try to track down the fleeing driver and file a claim with his or her insurer – assuming he or she is insured. But even if you have collision coverage, the accident will cost you money.

When you make a collision claim following a hit-and-run, you must first pay your deductible. Your car insurance company covers damages beyond that, says Bob Passmore, spokesperson for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an industry trade group. If the identity of the individual who struck your vehicle is later discovered, your insurer could subrogate or attempt to recoup the money it’s paid for the damages to your car, he adds. Your insurer may even be able to recover your deductible for you.

Car insurance claim requirements

Keep in mind that the time period for filing a claim varies by state. In most states, you will have two or three years to identify the driver and file a claim. In others, you may have as many as five years, Passmore says. If you discover the hit-and-run driver’s identity within the appropriate amount of time, notify your car insurance company and it will pursue him or her to recover monies.

If you don’t know the identity of the other driver at the time you file a claim with your insurer, some states may require you to file an uninsured motorist insurance claim, Passmore says. (Here’s more about uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.) If you have uninsured motorist coverage, it pays for damages caused by the hit-and-run driver if he or she lacks insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage will pay for damages that exceed the other driver’s liability insurance limit – up to the limits of your own policy.  

To deter fraud, some states require you to prove physical contact with another vehicle when you’re making a claim. You may be asked to provide evidence that you were struck by another car – compared to striking a tree or suffering damages due to falling asleep behind the wheel or drunk driving. This evidence can be a photo of your car that shows a paint transfer where the hit-n-run driver struck you.

Other evidence can come from a witness – if he or she can give an independent corroboration of your story (maybe the person in the vehicle behind you witnessed the episode). In some states, there must be no connection between you and the witness, says Passmore.

Once you have your evidence, the process for hit-and-run accidents is like the regular claims process. You may file a claim for physical damage or bodily injury. A physical damage claim could encompass, among other things, obtaining a cost estimate from an auto body shop. For an injury claim, you generally need to provide signed authorization for your auto insurance company access to your medical records, bills and other documentation for your injuries.

Collect information to support your car insurance claim

In the immediate aftermath of a hit-and-run incident, it's natural to overlook something due to the stress of the situation. But attempt to record as much information as possible at the scene. If possible, write down the vehicle's license plate number or take a photograph of the fleeing car and/or individual with your cell phone camera. "And get as much detail as you can remember about the description of the car," adds Passmore. Most importantly: Talk to your insurance company and ask questions.

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