In many states, car accidents are adjudicated from the standpoint of guilt. That is, of the parties involved, one bears the most responsibility for the accident, by default, whether as the result of defective driving, a defective vehicle, or any other cause. This negligence principle is based on the concept that drivers who get behind the wheel of a multi-thousand-pound piece of moving metal understand, at the very least, their responsibility.

This understanding, under the law, is called the “duty of reasonable care.” Good drivers understand that their vehicle is a lethal weapon to an inattentive child, a teen with earbuds riding his bike, or a pedestrian wearing a headset while he jogs to work. Not to mention the other drivers in their one-ton-plus vehicles, hurtling down the road at an average 50 miles an hour.

Bad drivers don’t understand. Bad drivers are indifferent to harm until it happens, and then they want to cite all the reasons they are not responsible. Fortunately, the law gets it right enough of the time that the guilty are punished, and the innocent – if they survive – are vindicated, either by walking away free or by insurance settlements for their physical and emotional trauma.

But even if you are the innocent party, there are certain rules you must follow after an accident. These are called “hit and run” laws, and they currently apply in 50 states. The only exceptions are Utah, Kentucky and Montana.

Penalties, in the event of a death, can run from 30 days in jail and a fine of $100 (as happened recently in Iowa) to the tens of thousands of dollars and up to 15 years in prison.

In Florida, where 180 people died in hit and run accidents in 2015, the Florida Highway Patrol’s “Bad to Worse” campaign aims to reduce fatal accidents by up to 30 years in prison and as much as $10,000 in fines.

In Wisconsin, a Milwaukee man faces 25 years in prison and $100,000 in fines for initially lying and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, though he did later confess.

In New York City, a proposed bill will raise civil penalties to $20,000 for drivers who have repeated accidents where someone is injured or killed.

The law is fairly clear. The major penalties apply to the death (or serious injury) of living things, first humans, and then animals (typically pets). But property damage is not exempt, and depends on the extent of the damage.

Property Damage Laws

In Tennessee, for example, which in 2015 set about cracking down on uninsured drivers, the minimum level of liability required under law is $15,000 for property damage (but $25,000 for a single injury or death). The law resulted in Tennessee becoming sixth in the nation for the number of uninsured drivers, but the penalty for not having insurance (or enough insurance) is still only $100.

Unfortunately, property damage law is more complicated than injury because of the wide variation in amounts of damage. However, some rules are very clear:

  • If your vehicle is struck by another vehicle while parked, it is a property damage claim
  • The same applies to your mailbox, lawn, outbuildings or home, regardless of the extent of the damage and providing no one (including no animal) was hurt or killed.

In both at-fault states and no-fault states, the vehicle doing the damage is, obviously, the policy which pays for property damage repair.

In fourteen states where uninsured motorist property damage, or UMPD, insurance applies, your insurance covers you if someone who has no insurance hits your car, mailbox, or house. This insurance also comes into play in hit-and-run accidents, but your insurance may include a deductible, so be sure you check with your insurer before accepting uninsured motorist coverage.

The 14 states are:

  1. Georgia
  2. Hawaii
  3. Maryland
  4. New Jersey
  5. New Mexico
  6. North Carolina
  7. Oregon
  8. South Carolina
  9. Texas
  10. Utah
  11. Vermont,
  12. Virginia
  13. Washington
  14. West Virginia

In addition, Washington D.C., Utah, and Washington State allow you to reject UMPD coverage if you have adequate collision coverage.

Even though laws have become increasingly strict, and vehicle insurance companies have raised the bar, too many drivers remain uninsured. For example, in 2012, 12.6 percent of drivers, or one in eight, was uninsured. In 2014, according to the Insurance Research Council, or IRC, the ratio remained identical.

The reason behind the persistence of uninsured drivers is being cited as the economic downturn, but this is not helpful to those injured by uninsured motorists who continue to get behind the wheel, one way or another, and the process of negotiation, by said insurance companies, may leave many handicapped either physically or by the debt incurred in an accident for which they were not at fault.

Staff (63 Posts)