Hit and Run Investigation Process in California
Under California law, hit-and-runs are a crime when the driver flees after injuring or killing a victim or causing property damage. When a hit-and-run happens in Los Angeles, the police will visit the scene, interview the parties involved, and begin gathering evidence.
During this initial investigation, the police will search for the fled driver. If the police can identify the hit-and-run driver, they will charge them with a crime. However, you can still bring a personal injury claim (a civil lawsuit) against them to help pay for medical bills, property damage, and pain and suffering.
To identify the driver who fled the scene, police will typically piece together the evidence they gathered, view any surveillance footage, and in fatal cases, they will often present the case to the local news stations, asking the public for help.
Under California Vehicle Code 20001 VC, felony hit and run occurs when you flee the scene of a vehicle accident when someone is injured or killed. Under Vehicle Code 20002 VC, a misdemeanor hit and run occurs when you flee the scene of a car accident when it causes property damage.
Suppose police are able to identify the hit-and-run driver. In that case, they will face criminal charges. Further, the victim can attempt to bring a personal injury lawsuit against them and recover compensation for medical bills, property damage, pain and suffering, etc. Let's break down the process of a hit-and-run investigation by police below.
Step One: Investigate the Scene of the Hit and Run
Police officers will investigate a hit-and-run by visiting the accident scene. They will interview the victim and seek evidence to help identify the person responsible for the accident. Sources of evidence might include the following:
- video footage,
- witness statements,
- tire marks,
- photographs of damaged vehicles or property,
- photographs of the accident scene,
- license plates witnesses wrote down, or
- the paint on the victim's car from the other vehicle.
All the evidence gathered in the hit-and-run investigation will be documented in a police report.
Step Two: Review the Evidence Gathered
Sometimes, the evidence at the crime scene is enough to identify the other driver. For instance, if witnesses wrote down the correct license plate number of the vehicle, police could look up the vehicle's owner through the Department of Motor Vehicle records.
But this initial investigation is often not enough, and police must take a closer look at the evidence gathered. Police will review surveillance camera footage from where the accident occurred to see if they can get a clear image of the hit-and-run driver, the vehicle involved, or their license plate number.
Additionally, the police may interview people present during the accident, like local stores or businesses, to see if anyone has any information they want to report.
When the case becomes difficult, the police may reach out to the local news to report the story and to hospitals or urgent care facilities to see if anyone has come in with injuries that could have been caused by a car accident.
If the police can identify the other driver, they will charge them with a criminal offense. In California, hit-and-runs that result in personal injury or fatalities are considered felony crimes.
Hit-and-run felonies are subject to a maximum fine of between $1,000 and $10,000 and up to four years in state jail. If your car or property was damaged, the police will charge the other driver with a misdemeanor. Hit-and-run misdemeanors are subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in county jail.
Step Three: What if There Are No Clear Leads?
Suppose the evidence gathered at a hit-and-run accident scene does not provide police with clear leads on the perpetrator. In that case, they will seek other sources of evidence, such as surveillance camera footage that may have captured the accident. This type of footage might provide them with crucial details, such as the following:
- vehicle license plate number,
- make and model of vehicle,
- image of vehicle driver and occupants,
- details of the accident.
Often, police will seek other evidence by interviewing more people. Perhaps an employee in a nearby store near the accident scene saw what happened and could provide them with helpful information. Sometimes, police will contact local hospitals to find out if someone was recently treated for vehicle accident injuries.
Step 4: Insurance Claims
Whether you have suffered property damage or a personal injury during a hit-and-run, you can file an insurance claim to seek compensation for your damages. The insurance provider will review the case by examining the following:
- your insurance policy,
- police records,
- medical records,
- witness testimony,
- surveillance footage, and
- photos of the damage to your vehicle.
What Types of Damages Are Available?
When you are involved in a hit-and-run and bring a personal injury lawsuit against the other party, you can recover for your medical bills, property damage, and pain and suffering.
Pain and suffering are meant to repay you for the physical and mental anguish you suffered from the accident. They are considered non-economic damages, meaning there is no exact monetary value to refer to when setting the amount recovered.
To determine how much you can recover from pain and suffering, you can use the multiplier method, which multiplies your economic damages by a number between one and five, depending on how severe your injuries are.
For example, if your injuries are severe, you would multiply your economic damages by five, but if they were not, there would be no multiple.
How Can a Lawyer Help You?
A personal injury attorney will be able to explain these complexities to you and advise on the best course of action for your injuries.
Our Los Angeles car accident lawyers can help you file an insurance claim and negotiate it on your behalf. Suppose the claim is unsuccessful. In that case, we can help you file a civil lawsuit against the hit-and-run driver.
We provide a free case evaluation and work on a contingency basis, meaning you don't pay any fees unless we win your case. The Injury Justice Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, California.