Recovering Losses After a Montana Hit-and-Run Accident
Every 45 seconds a hit and run occurs somewhere in the United States. Many hit-and-runs occur between midnight and 4 a.m., when they are 5 times more likely. They can also happen in broad daylight. At 6:30 in the morning of March third of this year, tragically a 63 old man was fatally wounded in a hit-and-run accident in Missoula on West Broadway. The alleged driver was in custody a short time later and is facing multiple felonies.
Tragic deaths like this one from a hit-and-run are relatively rare in predominantly rural states like Montana. However, a driver fleeing from the scene of an accident after only minor damage happens all too often. This is frustrating and potentially costly for the others involved. Fleeing the scene of any accident carries serious consequences in Montana. If you’ve been the victim of a hit-and-run car accident, here is The Advocates’ guide to successfully managing the aftermath.
How Montana Defines a Hit-and-Run Crash
Montana law requires that any driver that knows or should have reasonably known that an accident has occurred involving a person, object, or vehicle must immediately stop their vehicle at the scene as close as safely possible. The driver then has the duty to render aid, and provide information to the other party. Failing to fulfill either of these requirements before leaving the scene carries stiff penalties if convicted as a hit-and-run driver.
Hit and Run Penalties
If an accident involves serious injuries or death, the driver who flees the scene is subject to a fine of up to $50,000, a prison sentence of up to 10 years, and revocation of your driving license. For an accident resulting in injuries of a less serious nature, the court has the discretion to impose a fine of up to $5,000 and up to a year in jail. Even a first offense involving an accident that resulted in no injuries can garner a $300 fine and up to 20 days jail. Any subsequent conviction can be punished by 6 months in jail and a fine of $500. With penalties this stiff, you have to wonder why anyone would leave the scene of an accident.
Reasons Drivers Flee Accident Scenes
Regardless of the situation, leaving the scene of an accident prematurely only makes a bad situation worse. So why does anyone do it? Typically, the reasons fall under a few categories, and frankly none of them are good.
They might be driving without proper insurance, have expired tags or perhaps a suspended license. Sometimes they may have unpaid tickets or warrants they are worried about if the police show up. Frequently, for one reason or another, they are knowingly operating a motor vehicle illegally. Ironically the penalty for fleeing is often more severe than the reason that made them take off in the first place.
A more insidious reason would be to mask another crime. An intoxicated or otherwise impaired driver could flee in the hope of hiding that fact from the authorities. The driver could be wanted for a more serious offense or even currently driving a stolen vehicle. Don’t count out the possibility that the driver may have just left the scene of another crime. For these reasons it is inadvisable to pursue a driver who flees the scene. Contact the authorities and let the police do the chasing. You’re likely already feeling side-swiped, don’t put yourself in harm’s way.
Sometimes though, even a normally decent person can panic in the heat of the moment. If you or a family member ever find yourself in this situation try to think clearly. If it just happened maybe you can turn around and rectify the situation. If it has been too long for that, the best advice is to bite-the-bullet and consult a criminal attorney to discuss your options.
Hit and Run Accidents Involving Unattended Vehicles
Collisions involving a parked car or other unattended object are usually less severe. Montana law clearly defines the duties of a driver in this situation. First, the driver must immediately stop as soon as it is safe to do so. Second, the driver must make reasonable steps to locate the operator or owner of the vehicle or object. In lieu of finding the owner, the driver can leave a written notice with their name, address, contact information, and a statement detailing what happened.
Cameras seem to be everywhere in the modern world. So, the chances are high that something, somewhere will capture any incident. Between that and forensic evidence hopefully the police can identify something to help the investigation. Not all hit-and-run cases are solved. Even if the culprit is apprehended, you may or may not be any closer to recovering your damages and losses.
Montana Hit and Run Collision FAQ
What should I do if I am involved in a Montana hit and run accident?
Check yourself for injuries first. Call 911 immediately if you can. If you can do so without aggravating your injuries, check to see if anyone else is injured. Use extreme caution if on or near the roadway as a secondary accident with oncoming traffic is a very real and dangerous possibility.
Move your car out of traffic while you wait for the police if you can do so safely. Take a moment to write down any info on the fleeing car and driver. Take notice of any distinguishing marks the car may have had. If there are any witnesses get a brief statement and contact information.
Take some photos of the crime scene and any damage for your records. Include shots of road conditions and any tire marks. Try to get as many details as you can and use a variety of angles. Get pictures of nearby signage to verify the location as well as time of day. Be sure to request a copy of the police report for your records.
What if I return to find my car damaged and the driver did not leave a note?
Returning to your car only to find it has been hit by someone who fled the scene sans note is frustrating to say the least. Much of the same advice above still applies. Call the police and take some pictures. Canvas the area for possible witnesses and consider where nearby security cameras could be located. Did the car leave a mark that might indicate its color? Anything that could help the police identify the car is potentially useful. Request a copy of the police report for your records. You may want to contact your insurance company right away about the possibility of your insurance covering this type of damage.
How do I recover damages if I am unable to locate the other driver?
The insurance company will likely treat this kind of claim as if the accident occurred with an uninsured driver. If you have collision, uninsured motorist, or no-fault insurance included with your policy, they may cover some or all the damage. How much of the damages they are obligated to cover will depend on the specifics of your policy. Coverage of this type is typically considered optional, and subject to the deductible amount as listed on your policy. If your policy does not cover this situation, and the driver is not identified, you may be left to weather the damages on your own.
Even if your coverage applies, they may take a different opinion toward the damages and cost of the repairs. A number of cases that end up in court are consumers suing their own insurance company to get the settlement they deserve. If you are at odds with how your company is handling your claim, consider consulting a qualified attorney who specializes in handling car accidents. The insurance company will certainly have an attorney and claims adjuster working for them whose job it will be to lower whatever settlement you do receive. Having a professional on your side can make all the difference.
Who will perform repairs after my hit and run crash?
It’s vital to know your rights following a car accident. Do not let the insurance company have the final say on where to take your car for repairs. You are free to take your car to any place you like for the estimate and subsequent repair work. Montana law states that insurance companies are prohibited from requiring you to use a particular shop, or to offer incentives or kickbacks for using a specific shop. They must provide a list of all auto repair shops in your area if you ask.
Montana Hit and Run Accident Attorney
Dealing with the complex intricacies of car insurance after a hit and run accident can be tricky at times. If you’re not sure of your rights or how a policy applies to your situation, consulting an attorney is like money in the bank. With a free consultation what have you got to lose?
The Advocates have four locations in Montana so you’ll be getting a firm with local experience combined with the resources of a larger national firm. We have been helping people recover losses from injuries for almost 30 years. With one call our car accident lawyers are ready to take over the hassle dealing with claims adjusters, insurance paperwork, and hospital bills so you can get back to your life. We take care of our clients and treat them like family. You can either call our office today at (406) 272-6986, fill out the form below, or chat with a live attorney from our homepage. You deserve an Advocate!