Any car accident can be highly stressful, especially if you suffer painful injuries. Being hit and having that driver flee the scene can add stress.
After any vehicle accident, you may want to file a legal claim and get compensation. But when the other driver flees the scene, that becomes far more complex.
Some issues could lengthen your wait for justice and financial compensation. Hiring an experienced hit-and-run accident attorney can help ensure proper handling of the legal paperwork, management through the judicial system, and getting you the compensation you deserve.
How a St. Louis hit and run accident attorney can help you
You likely sought medical care if you suffered minor or major injuries from a hit-and-run accident. Once you are on the mend, no matter how inconsequential or severe your hit-and-run accident may seem, calling an experienced personal injury lawyer is a good next step.
Hit and run accidents are complex. An experienced St. Louis hit-and-run accident lawyer has the expertise to understand the complexities of your case and alleviate that burden from you.
Meeting with a hit-and-run attorney
When you sit down for a consultation with a hit-and-run lawyer, they will ask you about the circumstances of the accident. You should be prepared to share your recollection of the accident and any information you may have regarding the vehicle and driver who hit you.
The attorney will evaluate your evidence and decide whether they feel you have a viable claim. If so, and you agree to the terms of representation being offered, the hit-and-run attorney and their team can get to work for you.
What will a hit-and-run accident attorney do?
Your attorney will begin compiling evidence and interviewing any witnesses of the accident.
They can handle your insurance company and will begin organizing the paperwork for your case while taking the stress off you so you can concentrate on your healing.
Locating the hit-and-run driver
Law enforcement will start an investigation with your detailed accounting of the accident and description of the vehicle and driver. Outside witness accounts will also aid in that. But your legal team may also want to start its investigation.
Your hit-and-run accident lawyer may contact an experienced local private investigator, who may have more time to dedicate to your case than local law enforcement. A private investigator will also want to speak with witnesses from the accident and will likely visit the scene. They may look for surveillance cameras that have recorded the accident or collected the vehicle before or after the accident and may expose the license plate number.
Other legal problems the hit and run driver may face in addition to your accident claim
Your civil claim will not be the only thing the hit-and-run driver needs to worry about. Leaving an accident scene where someone was injured or died is a crime in Missouri. Once found, the driver may face criminal charges, and police may already have incarcerated them.
Will a criminal case affect your civil claim?
The two distinct types of cases, criminal and civil, should not directly affect each other, but a criminal case can certainly slow down your civil claim. If the defendant is already involved in a criminal trial, your civil case may be ruled a stay, or suspended until the case is over.
In some instances, a stay is automatic. If not, the defendant’s lawyer may ask for one. No matter how it comes about, this could mean a lengthy wait for your case and your compensation.
Will the outcome of a criminal case influence your civil case?
Even if the defendant is found guilty of a criminal hit and run, it does not guarantee your civil case for damages is a sure win. However, your attorney may use the criminal justice as pertinent information when working toward a settlement in your favor.
In addition, bringing up the conviction could help convince a jury to award you a higher compensation judgment if your case should go to court.
If the defendant is found not guilty of a criminal hit and run, that does not mean you cannot win your civil case and still receive the compensation you deserve. But your personal injury lawyer will not have a criminal conviction to aid in leveraging your case.
What if the hit-and-run driver is already serving time in prison?
If the driver from your hit-and-run accident has already been prosecuted and found guilty of leaving the scene, they could already be in prison. However, this may not conflict with filing your legal case, which should be done in a timely manner.
But, as with the defendant being involved in another case, if the defendant is already in prison following the outcome of a criminal case, moving forward with your case could be held until the prisoner is released from custody.
Missouri’s statute of limitations for filing a hit and run lawsuit
In Missouri, you have up to five years following a hit-and-run accident to file a personal injury case. If, for any reason, you miss that deadline, you could be denied your compensation. An experienced hit-and-run accident attorney can assure that your paperwork is properly filed and on time.
What if the hit-and-run driver cannot be found?
Usually, either local law enforcement or a private investigator will be able to find the at-fault driver. But even if not, you still may be able to recover compensation for the damages you sustained.
Many auto insurance policies include coverage for hit-and-run accidents. If you have a full coverage policy, your insurance may cover all your expenses, including medical care for your injuries and repairs for damages to your car. This is something your hit-and-run accident lawyer can pursue.
If your insurance policy does not have hit-and-run accident coverage, there may be other avenues to get you compensation. An experienced St. Louis hit-and-run attorney can examine any alternatives with you.
What compensation do you deserve
Following a hit-and-run accident, you may look for economic and non-economic compensation. Economic damages come in the form of bills with a given cost amount. Non-economic damages, although equally as real, do not have a set cost but deal with issues of your life following the accident.
What are economic damages?
Your economic damages following a hit-and-run accident can include medical care, from being seen in the emergency room through hospitalization and surgery to follow-up care, including physician visits, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. In addition, you should be compensated for future medical care concerning your injuries from the accident.
Economic damages may also include a loss of income if you have needed to be away from work, and in the projected time into the future, you may still need time off to heal.
The repair or replacement of your vehicle will also be included in economic damages. Your attorney will need copies of all bills applied to economic damages, including medical bills and estimates or repair bills.
Assigning a financial amount to non-economic damages
Pain and suffering, trauma, emotional distress, and a loss of enjoyment of life are all factors included in non-economic damages. While no amount of money may do them justice, you are still entitled to compensation for them.
Non-economic damages do not come with a set billed amount. Therefore, your attorney will rely on previous cases and experts in their fields to help determine what an appropriate amount of financial compensation for non-economic damages would be in your case.
What about punitive damages?
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in Missouri, but if there is evidence to prove the hit-and-run driver caused the accident on purpose or out of malice toward you, it is something your attorney may want to consider. Missouri’s judicial system allows legal claims for punitive damages with proof of intent.
What could go wrong if you pursue a legal case without hiring a hit-and-run attorney?
While some individuals go through the legal system with a vehicle accident claim and win compensation, it can be daunting. And those who have may have been awarded higher compensation if they had hired a personal injury lawyer.
One mistake can cost a plaintiff the win in their hit-and-run accident case.
Some of those mistakes may include:
- Failing to file before the statute of limitations deadline
- Failing to locate all the pertinent evidence and documentation for the case
- Not pursuing a private investigator to aid in locating the hit and run driver if law enforcement does not have the time or resources to do so
- Agreeing to a quick settlement rather than understanding and pursuing the compensation they truly deserve
- A lack of knowledge in understanding where to turn should the driver responsible for the accident not be found
An experienced hit-and-run accident attorney will understand all the details necessary to pursue a hit-and-run case while avoiding potential mishaps.
How much will a hit-and-run attorney cost?
Many people feel that hiring a personal injury attorney will cost them money upfront and out-of-pocket. That is a misnomer. Personal injury lawyers specializing in vehicle accident cases, including hit-and-run accidents, work on a contingency basis, meaning they will not get paid unless you win.
In fact, most St. Louis hit-and-run attorneys will offer you an initial consultation to review your case for free. If they accept your case and you are ready to hire them, you will sign a representation agreement that will lay out the amount of their fee, generally a percentage, to be paid when you receive your compensation.
What if your case ends up going to court?
Luckily for you, the plaintiff, the ultimate decision of whether to take your case to trial is up to you. If you and your attorney feel you are not being offered proper compensation for your damages, you may want to proceed with a court trial.
Remember, however, that you will have to win over the jury, or the judge in the case of a bench trial, in determining that the hit-and-run driver was at fault and caused the accident. While it may seem like a slam dunk, your attorney must prove your case. If you win, your attorney must also provide convincing documentation to equivocate for the compensation you request.
It is a big decision you should extensively discuss with your attorney before opting either way.
Hit and run accidents are on the rise
There are many reasons why a driver who caused an accident may try to flee. They may be driving without a license or while under the influence. They could be using a vehicle without permission or insurance. According to AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, hit-and-run crashes are increasing almost every year.
Recently in Missouri, more than 55,000 persons were injured in a combination of several vehicle accidents in one year, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Some of those injuries were incurred through hit-and-run accidents.
Choosing a hit and run accident attorney
Trying to deal with the complexities of a hit-and-run legal case is not something someone should try to do on their own. When choosing a hit-and-run accident attorney, look for someone with experience in vehicle accident law and who has the experience and has won hit-and-run cases.
While you focus on your recovery, hire a qualified St. Louis hit-and-run accident attorney to deal with the legal issues of your particular case and help you receive the compensation you deserve.