Learn the steps to take after a hit-and-run accident to get the compensation you deserve
In recent years, Montana and the United States at large have seen a worrying uptick in the number of hit-and-run accidents on the roads. The aftermath of these types of accidents can be emotionally and financially draining, leaving victims scrambling to understand their rights and options for recovery.
This article aims to guide you through the legal landscape, explaining your rights as well as the steps to take to increase your chances of recovering compensation if you find yourself the unfortunate victim of a hit-and-run accident.
Concerning hit-and-run accident statistics
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), hit-and-run crashes and fatalities have both been on the rise in recent years. In 2015 alone, there were 737,100 hit-and-run crashes in the U.S., which equates to approximately 1 crash every 43 seconds.
During the 11-year period from 2006-2016 in the U.S., there was an average of 1,561 hit-and-run crashes involving at least 1 fatality annually. In Montana during that same timeframe, there was an average of 5.18 such crashes involving fatalities annually, with 4 occurring in 2016.
More recent NHTSA data revealed there were 2,872 fatal hit-and-run crashes across the U.S. in 2021, an increase of 11% from 2020. Of the 7,388 pedestrian fatalities in 2021, 1,802 (24%) were the result of hit-and-run crashes. Of the 966 pedalcyclist fatalities that same year, 220 (22%) were caused by hit-and-run drivers.
Is it illegal to hit and run in Montana?
Yes, hit-and-run accidents are illegal in Montana. The state has specific laws that outline the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident without following the required procedures, such as providing identification and rendering aid.
The penalties depend on the severity of the accident and whether it involved property damage, injury, serious bodily injury, or death. Fines and prison terms can escalate significantly for more serious incidents and for drivers with prior convictions.
Failure to comply with these laws can result in both criminal and civil consequences, including fines, imprisonment, and the revocation of one’s driver’s license.
What are the penalties for hit-and-run accidents in Montana?
In Montana, penalties for hit-and-run offenses vary based on the severity of the incident and whether the driver has prior convictions.
Penalties for accidents involving property damage only
For a first conviction involving property damage but no injuries, the penalty ranges from $200 to $300 and/or imprisonment for up to 20 days.
A second conviction within a year results in a fine of $300 to $400, up to 30 days in jail, or both.
A third or subsequent conviction within a year can lead to a fine between $400 and $500, up to 6 months in jail, or both.
Penalties for accidents involving injuries or death
If the hit-and-run accident results in injuries, the penalties escalate to imprisonment for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 1 year, a fine between $100 and $5,000, or both.
For incidents causing serious bodily injury or death, the offender can face state prison time ranging from 1 to 10 years, a fine up to $50,000, or both. Additionally, their driver’s license will be revoked for a period prescribed under Montana law.
Finally, if an offender fails to pay the imposed fine, they can be jailed in the county where the offense occurred, with the sentence commuted at a rate of one day’s incarceration for each $75 of the unpaid fine.
Is hit-and-run a felony in Montana?
In Montana, whether a hit-and-run is considered a felony depends on the severity of the accident and its consequences. Accidents that only involve property damage or minor injuries are not considered felonies.
However, if the hit-and-run leads to “serious bodily injury” or death, the crime is classified as a felony, which comes with penalties that include up to a 10-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $50,000.
Is Montana a no-fault accident state?
No, Montana is not a no-fault accident state. It operates under a “tort” or “fault-based” system when it comes to car accidents. This means that the person responsible for causing the car accident is also responsible for any resulting harm or damages.
In this system, the injured party has the right to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance policy for medical expenses, lost wages and other costs related to the accident. If the insurance claim is not sufficient to cover the damages, the injured party may also pursue a civil lawsuit against the at-fault driver to recover additional compensation.
How does being in a “fault state” affect claims after a hit-and-run accident?
In a hit-and-run accident in Montana, the fact that the state operates under a fault-based system can complicate matters. Normally, you would file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance. However, in a hit-and-run, the identity of the at-fault driver is often unknown, making it difficult or impossible to file a claim against their insurance.
As a result, victims may need to rely on their own insurance coverage to handle medical expenses, property damage and other costs.
What are my options for financial recovery after a hit-and-run accident?
Uninsured motorist (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage can be particularly useful in accidents involving a hit-and-run driver. This insurance can cover the costs of your injuries and damages up to your policy limits if you’re hit by a driver who leaves the scene.
Alternatively, if the hit-and-run driver is identified and caught, you could proceed with a claim against their insurance, and they would be subject to the penalties stipulated under Montana law for hit-and-run offenses. You would also be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against them to recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.
What can I do to increase my chances of recovering compensation in a hit-and-run accident?
While it’s not always possible to recover compensation from a hit-and-run driver, taking the following steps will increase your chance of success:
- First, try to collect as much information as possible at the scene. If there are witnesses, get their contact information. They may have seen the vehicle, its license plate or the driver. Be sure to make a note of the time, place and circumstances of the accident, as well as any details about the fleeing vehicle, such as the make, model and color. Additionally, check with local businesses and government agencies to see if there are any cameras in the area that may have captured the accident.
- Second, contact law enforcement immediately to file a police report. This formal record can be crucial when you’re making an insurance claim. Provide the police with all the details you’ve gathered to help them in their investigation.
- Third, seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if you think your injuries are minor. A medical record linking your injuries to the accident can strengthen your insurance claim or any future litigation.
- Fourth, notify your insurance company promptly. Inform them that you’ve been in a hit-and-run accident and provide the details along with the police report. They can guide you through the claim process under your own policy’s uninsured motorist coverage, if you have it.
- Lastly, consider hiring an attorney experienced in car accident cases. They can help you navigate the complexities of insurance claims, and, if the hit-and-run driver is identified, they can help you file a lawsuit to seek additional compensation.
Will my insurance go up after a hit-and-run accident?
Whether a hit-and-run accident will increase your insurance premiums largely depends on your insurance company’s policies and the details of the accident.
Generally, if you’re not at fault for the hit-and-run, your rates will not increase significantly, especially if you have a good driving record. However, filing a claim for the accident, particularly if it involves a significant payout, could lead to an increase in your premiums.
If you have uninsured motorist coverage and use it for a hit-and-run claim, some insurers may consider this a “not-at-fault” claim and may not raise your rates. However, each insurance company has its own approach to these situations, so it’s best to consult with your insurance agent to understand how a hit-and-run could affect your premiums.
Keep in mind that multiple claims in a short period, regardless of fault, can generally lead to increased rates. Always check your specific policy and consult your insurance representative for the most accurate information.
Can I still receive compensation if the at-fault driver is not found?
Yes, if you have uninsured motorist coverage, you may be eligible for compensation for your injuries and other damages through your own insurance. Be sure to check your insurance policy for specific details, and consult with an attorney for further guidance.
What types of compensation can I claim?
Depending on your situation, you may be eligible to claim medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. If the hit-and-run driver is found, you may also be able to claim punitive damages, which are meant to punish the driver and deter similar behavior.
Who can file a claim in Montana after a hit-and-run accident if a family member is killed?
In Montana, if a family member is killed in a hit-and-run accident, the closest relatives usually have the right to file a wrongful death claim. This typically includes the deceased person’s spouse, children, parents, or the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. These claims are meant to compensate for the emotional and financial losses suffered due to the loss of a loved one.
It’s important to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney to navigate the complexities of these claims and ensure that all deadlines are met, as wrongful death claims are subject to a statute of limitations. An attorney can guide you through the necessary steps and help maximize the compensation you may be entitled to.
What is the statute of limitations for filing a claim in a hit-and-run case?
In Montana, the statute of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death cases, including hit-and-run accidents, is generally 3 years from the date of the accident. It’s crucial to consult an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you don’t miss this deadline.
Should I hire an attorney for a hit-and-run case?
Hiring an attorney for a hit-and-run case is generally advisable, especially if you’ve suffered significant injuries or property damage or if the circumstances of the accident are complex. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the legal intricacies of the situation, gather evidence and advocate on your behalf.
If the perpetrator is not found, an attorney can also guide you through the process of claiming compensation through your own insurance under uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage and ensure that you receive the maximum benefits available to you under your policy.
Furthermore, an attorney can assist if there are disputes with your insurance company or if you have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit against other parties. Even in seemingly straightforward cases, the legal and insurance procedures can be complicated, and having expert guidance can be invaluable.
Get help from an experienced Great Falls car accident attorney after a hit-and-run
If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident in the Great Falls area, don’t navigate this challenging time alone. Contact the experienced Montana car accident attorneys at Murphy Law Firm. Our team has more than 75 years of combined experience in helping people just like you get the compensation and justice they deserve.
Reach out to us today for a free consultation to learn more about your options for financial recovery.
61-7-118. Penalty for violation, MCA. (n.d.). Leg.mt.gov. Retrieved September 18, 2023, from https://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0610/chapter_0070/part_0010/section_0180/0610-0070-0010-0180.html
Hit-and-Run Crashes: Prevalence, Contributing Factors and Countermeasures. (n.d.). https://aaafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/18-0058_Hit-and-Run-Brief_FINALv2.pdf
Overview of Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes in 2021. (2023). https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/Publication/813435