May 26, 2019
by Debra Newby, Newby Law
DEAR READERS: Do you have a legal question on your mind? If so, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your name will remain confidential. This Q & A Legal Column is intended as a community service to discuss general legal principles and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
It seems like every time I turn around, I am reading yet another article in the local press about a hit-and-run driver. Sometimes the story ends very sadly, where the innocent bystander is seriously injured or killed. What is going on out there…and how can we protect ourselves?
Signed: Stop-the Crazy-Drivers
Our Sonoma County roads do seem to be getting a little more crowded and dangerous. For example, look at the busy intersection near Stony Point Road and Highway 12, where at least three hit-and-runs have occurred over the last 6-8 months. It does not shock me that some drivers are inattentive. I see it all the time in my personal injury practice. Certainly, my readers also see it all the time on our local roads. Texting while driving. Zipping in and out of lanes of traffic, without signaling. The list goes on and on. Our roads have become a type of battlefield. The laws of physics are unforgiving and unwavering. Newton’s laws of motion do not discriminate.
I can only speculate why a driver would flee the scene. Perhaps they were already breaking the law (under the influence of drugs or alcohol). Perhaps they do not even own the car and are scared of the consequences. Perhaps they have no sense of morals or conscious.
Perhaps they have no automobile insurance. Under California’s fiscal responsibility law, every car must have a minimum of 15/30 for liability insurance. That means that if you are found to be at fault in a car collision, your 15/30 coverage would pay up to $15,000 per person and up to $30,000 per incident (if more than one person was injured).
We cannot control the crazy actions of others. However, we can protect ourselves from the craziness on the roads. Here are a few practical tips:
1) Always have your cell phone charged and nearby to snap photos of any vehicles that may flee the scene. A picture is worth 1000 words.
2) Revisit the scene to determine if any nearby residences or businesses have outside security cameras that may have captured the hit-and-run.
3) Report any hit-and-runs immediately to the police. If you witness a hit-and-run, either stop at the scene to give your witness statement to the police or call the police with any detailed information to help the investigation.
4) Find and review the Declaration Page of your own insurance policy and discuss your coverage with your insurance agent or broker. What I am about to say is very, very important…make sure that your automobile insurance coverage includes UM/UIM Coverage, which is lingo for Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage. UM/UIM coverage is optional (i.e. not required under CA law). If you or your vehicle is hit by another vehicle that flees the scene, then your UM/UIM coverage should cover your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. I’d suggest that you get the highest UM/UIM coverage that your insurance company writes, as it is rated differently that liability coverage, and the extra premium is worth it, if you can afford it.
One last thought. I was curious how many vehicles may be uninsured, so I conducted a little research. According to a March 15, 2018 article published in the Insurance Journal, in five states, 20% or more of drivers have no insurance. Looking at a national average, 13% of motorists, about one in eight drivers, was uninsured. Florida has the highest rate of uninsured drivers (26.7%). California ranked #12, with 15.2 percent of our drivers being uninsured. These statistics certainly are not comforting. Knowledge is Power. Now that we know that 15% of the drivers on our California roads are uninsured, you should be extremely motivated to talk to your insurance agent or broker about UM/UIM coverage. Do it today. Your future may depend on it.
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