If you are the victim of a California hit-and-run accident, it’s normal to feel frustrated. Fortunately, if you have full coverage, your car insurance may help pay to repair the resulting damage. Discover what actions you can take following a hit and run in California to navigate the situation effectively.

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Hit and run in California

An accident is considered a hit and run if the at-fault driver flees the scene without stopping to exchange insurance and contact information with the other party. In California, drivers are required by the California Traffic Code to move their vehicles out of the traffic flow then stop, exchange information (like their name, current address and vehicle registration number) and offer “reasonable assistance” to anyone injured.

Hit-and-run accidents in California are common. In fact, the issue appears to be on the rise. According to data from the most recent California Office of Traffic Safety annual report, fatal hit-and-run crashes increased 3.4 percent, while hit-and-run crashes involving injuries increased 9.24 percent between 2021 and 2022.

California hit-and-run laws

When it comes to insurance, California hit-and-run laws differ from other states. Specifically, drivers can’t use uninsured motorist insurance to pay for damage to their vehicle if they can’t identify the other driver. There are, however, stiff legal penalties for the other driver if they are found. Those penalties depend on the amount of damage they cause. Here’s a quick overview of California hit-and-run laws:

  • Property damage after a hit and run: If the driver who left the scene damaged property but no one sustained injuries, they face up to six months of imprisonment in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Injuries after a hit and run: In this case, if caught, the driver who left the scene faces up to one year in a state prison or a county jail and/or a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.
  • Deaths or permanent injuries after a hit and run: According to California hit-and-run statute, the hit-and-run driver who gets caught faces two to four years in a state prison or a fine of up to $10,000.

California hit-and-run law states that this offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Generally, property damage results in a misdemeanor and fatalities almost always result in a felony charge.

4 things to do after a hit-and-run in California

Drivers who are victims of a hit and run can take certain steps to protect themselves after the accident, including:

1. Make sure everyone is safe

Move your vehicle out of the flow of traffic and check on yourself and any passengers. Your priority should be to call for medical attention if anyone needs it.

2. Call the police and have them come to the scene to file a report

When it comes to a hit and run, you’ll want to involve law enforcement to raise the chances of finding the other driver and gathering evidence of what happened. If the driver who left the scene is found, they’ll be held responsible for the damage to your car and any medical bills related to the accident. You may also need a police report in order to file an insurance claim.

3. Gather evidence

Take notes on everything you can remember about the other driver and vehicle while the information is fresh in your mind. See if any eyewitnesses can contribute, and ask them to stay and talk to the police. If they can’t or won’t stay at the scene, get their contact information. Take pictures of the damage and look for pieces of the other driver’s car to help identify them, but don’t move the evidence if you find it. It’s best not to touch anything and let the police collect any evidence at the scene.

4. Contact your auto insurer

They will let you know what information is needed to file a claim.

Will insurance cover a hit-and-run?

Whether or not your insurance will cover a hit and run will depend on what coverage is included in your car insurance policy. Drivers in California are required to carry at least a minimum amount of bodily injury liability and property damage liability coverage. However, this insurance will typically only cover the injuries or damage other parties incur in an accident you cause. Therefore, if you have liability-only insurance, your policy won’t help pay to repair your car after a hit and run.

The following types of insurance coverage may provide coverage if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident:

  • Collision coverage: Collision insurance is a type of auto insurance coverage that helps pay for the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle if it is damaged in a collision with another vehicle or object, regardless of fault. Collision coverage typically has a deductible, which you will have to pay out of pocket if you make a claim. Once you meet your deductible, your insurance will provide additional coverage up to your policy limit.
  • Uninsured motorist coverage: There are two types of uninsured motorist coverage, which may offer payouts if you are the victim of an accident caused by an uninsured driver. Bodily injury coverage will help pay for medical bills, while property damage coverage can help repair damage to your vehicle. Typically, uninsured motorist policies do not have a deductible.
  • Medical payments coverage: This coverage may be used to pay for medical bills incurred by you or your passenger as the result of an accident, even if you are not at fault for it. In most cases, medical payments coverage does not have a deductible.
  • Personal injury protection: Similar to medical payments coverage, personal injury protection can help cover medical costs regardless of fault. Some states mandate this coverage, while others do not offer it. The deductible will vary depending on state rules.

It’s important to note that most of these coverage types are optional — they are not included in a state-mandated minimum auto insurance policy. It can be tempting to skimp on coverage since auto insurance in California is already more expensive than in many other states. Still, the minimum level of state-required liability insurance is unlikely to cover all the costs associated with an accident. When shopping for an auto policy, it’s a good idea to research the cheapest and best car insurance companies, then speak with a licensed insurance professional before purchasing to ensure you have adequate coverage.

Frequently asked questions

    • According to the California Office of Traffic Safety annual report, California hit and runs are on the rise. Having the right coverage in your car insurance policy could help with minimizing the financial impact if you are involved in a hit-and-run accident.
    • The best car insurance companies are the companies that offer what you need and want from both your car insurance policy and the company itself. Whether you’re looking for affordable premiums, a wide variety of optional coverage or you want a fully mobile experience, exploring the different options available can be advantageous.
    • In California, most driving offenses will affect your rate for three to five years, but depending on the severity of a hit and run you cause, it could affect you for up to 10 years. During this time, you will likely pay higher car insurance premiums, and you may be required to file an SR-22. Once the violation is removed, your car insurance rate should decrease, barring any other changes to your driving record or claim history.
    • The penalty for a hit and run in California will vary depending on the severity of the accident and the property damage and/or bodily injuries that result from the crash. Penalties can range from six months in prison and up to $1,000 in fines for property damage to up to four years in prison and $10,000 in fines for an accident that results in a death.