Georgia drivers that are hit by hit and run drivers face unique challenges in handling their injury and property damage claims. We will break the discussion into two key subtypes; where the driver is eventually found and where they remain a phantom vehicle.
Hit and Run Driver is Eventually Located
These are great cases in that leaving the scene is a basis for an award of punitive damages in Georgia. This normally occurs when the driver flees the scene after the crash and someone is able to get the license plate number and the police track them down. If you are hit in a crash in Georgia and there is some basis for tracking the hit and run driver, work on the investigating officer to pursue the lead on the scene because many of these hit and run drivers leave because they are drunk or stoned. In the eventual civil case, we would be unable to introduce speculative evidence of intoxication, but hard evidence developed from the officer’s investigation that very night can be powerful.
In a case involving a located hit and run driver in Atlanta, you should get a copy of the accident report and get in touch with the other driver’s insurance company immediately. They will advise you if there are any coverage defenses (unauthorized driver, named driver exclusion, etc.) If the coverage is valid, you should have an easy time bargaining for a high dollar value on your car if it has been totaled out as the threat of punitive damages gives you leverage. Remember to also ask for diminution in value if your car is repaired.
Hit and Run Driver Not Located
These are difficult cases no matter how you look at them. First there are unique evidentiary requirements to filing a suit against an unknown “John Doe” driver. The injured Atlanta driver that is trying to show that the crash was caused by a John Doe “phantom” vehicle, must have damage to their car showing physical contact with the phantom car. In the alternative, if the injured Atlanta driver can corroborate their story with the testimony of an eyewitness (even someone in their own vehicle), then they can proceed. Bell v. Coronet Ins. Co., 197 Ga. App. 211, 398 S.E.2d 242 (1990). Remember that the eyewitness description does not have to be identical to the injured victim’s description but they must both refer to a phantom vehicle. See Lovelady Et Al. v. Alfa Mutual Insurance Company., 233 Ga. App. 117, 503 S.E.2d 349 (1998)
To prosecute the hit and run Georgia uninsured motorist claim, you are suing your own uninsured motorist insurer to seek recovery. The downside is that it is hard for a jury to get angry at your own insurer for the actions of an unknown third party and they will get a credit for any money paid out in medpay payments. The upside is that most of these are defended in the actual name of the insurance company and there is not as much sympathy as a typical Georgia Injury case where the jury can never learn about the existence of car insurance for the defendant.
If you are dealing with either of these situations hire a lawyer to walk you through the details as the evidence requirements, the punitive damages issues and the service requirements make this area precarious indeed.