Virginia Beach Hit and Run Accident Lawyer
We often help people injured by hit and run drivers on Virginia roads. Hit and run personal injury cases often present more challenges to the injured victim, and require the help of experienced auto accident lawyers. Here are some frequently asked questions and issues we encounter helping those injured by hit and run drivers in Virginia.
Filing an Accident Claim Following a Hit and Run
After most car accidents, both drivers do the responsible and lawful thing and exchange information and/or wait for the police to arrive. The officer will then investigate, speak to the drivers and any witnesses, and determine who is at fault. The officer then has discretion regarding whether to charge the at-fault driver with an offense typically under Virginia Code Title 46.2. Police officers in Virginia will then provide each driver with something called an Exchange Sheet, which will provide the name, address and car insurance company of the other driver.
Because of the officer’s investigation, the identity of the drivers involved is rarely in dispute, allowing the injured person and his or her lawyer to focus on proving other aspects of the injury case, such as lost wages, incurred medical expenses, and payment for pain and inconvenience.
When the other driver flees the scene, however, it creates some hurdles that must be cleared in order to successfully pursue a personal injury claim. Establishing the identity of the at-fault driver is an essential element of any successful personal injury claim.
What If The Driver Runs And Is Caught By the Police?
If the hit and run driver who injured you is captured by the police, this can be very beneficial to your injury case. If apprehended, the police and prosecutors will likely charge a hit and run driver under Virginia Code §46.2-894, which is a felony if the perpetrator causes injury to any person. While initial access to the police file will be limited during the at-fault driver’s prosecution, eventually that information can typically be used to help prove the identity of the at-fault driver.
The drawback is that these cases can sometimes be challenging to prosecute, especially if you or an eyewitness did not get a good look at the at-fault driver. There are instances where the at-fault driver will confess to the police. However, the at-fault driver is often instructed not to testify once he hires a criminal defense lawyer. This can make proving your injury case against the other driver more difficult.
Additionally, it is not enough that the at-fault driver is found guilty of the crime. The conviction can only be used in your personal injury case against the other driver if he pleaded guilty. If there is enough evidence to convict the hit and run driver of a crime, the insurance companies will sometimes concede on the issue of identity.
What If The Police Have A Suspect But Don’t Press Charges?
Sometimes following a hit and run accident the driver gets away. Sometimes the police and prosecutors will conduct an investigation but decide not to charge the suspect. This is because in order to get a conviction they must establish the driver’s guilt by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very difficult standard to meet.
In your civil personal injury case, however, the hit and run driver’s identify must only be established by the greater weight of the evidence (often described as simply more likely than not), which is an easier burden to meet. So while the evidence available may not be enough to get a criminal conviction, it may very well be enough to hold the driver responsible civilly for your damages and injuries from the accident.
If the prosecution declines to press charges, it is often a sign you are in for a fight. Hit and run drivers often have something to hide. They sometimes have warrants or were drunk, so they gambled and ran. They often hire lawyers before being charged and plead the 5th. They sometimes lie and say someone stole their car or lent it to someone else. Once they lie, they usually stick to the lie for fear of being charged with hit-and-run (and additional charges for lying to the police). Accordingly, a full investigation should be done to establish the identity of a hit and run driver in Virginia.
What If The Hit And Run Driver Gets Away And There Are No Suspects?
It is not unusual for there to be no suspects following a hit and run accident. You may, however, still have a viable injury claim to make. When the at-fault driver causing your injuries is unknown, Virginia law allows you to pursue an injury claim against “John Doe.” Virginia Code §38.2-2206(E) requires your own uninsured motorist insurance to step into the shoes of this unidentified driver and provide payment for injuries arising from the accident up to the amount of available insurance coverage.
Can You Sue Both The Suspect And John Doe?
Unless the hit and run driver comes clean and openly admits responsibility, the best practice typically is to file claims against the suspected hit and run driver and John Doe (and the respective insurance companies). If the insurance company is not satisfied that their insured was the actual driver, then a lawsuit must be filed. The lawsuit should sue the suspected hit and run driver and John Doe. While the goal is to hold the at-fault driver responsible for his or her actions, it would be unwise to only sue the suspected hit-and-run driver.
Suppose a judge or jury is not convinced by the greater weight of the evidence that the person sued is actually the driver. The jury would then have to find in favor of the defendant, and you would receive nothing for your injuries. However, if you also sue John Doe, a jury will then have the option to award you money damages against John Doe, which your uninsured motorist insurance will satisfy up to your coverage limits.
While in this scenario you would not have an identifiable person to hold accountable, you will at least protect yourself and be in a position to still recover payment for what happened to you.
Suppose the unidentified driver or John Doe negligently merges into your lane and runs you off the road injuring you, but your vehicles never collided. Can you still sue this John Doe driver? While some states require contact between the vehicles to pursue a claim against John Doe, the answer in Virginia is yes. Virginia does not require contact between your vehicle and the vehicle of the unidentified John Doe driver. In Virginia, a lawsuit can still be brought against John Doe as if there was a collision.
Car insurance companies are very suspicious of no-contact John Doe injury claims, and scrutinize these claims very closely. Insurance companies often deny voluntary payment of these claims and force these injury cases into court with hope the jury will conclude the injured party fabricated a story about an unknown driver. These cases often boil down to the credibility and believability of the injured person.
These are just some of the issues that can arise when pursuing a personal injury claim arising from a hit and run accident, or an accident caused by an unknown driver. It is important that you have an experienced Virginia Beach hit and run attorney ready to help you through these difficult cases to put you in the best position to be paid fairly for what happened to you.
Contact an Experienced Virginia Hit and Run Accident Injury Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been hurt by a hit and run driver, please call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers to discuss your options. We have a main office in Norfolk and client meeting locations in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton and on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.