More people are asking this question because the number of these incidents is on the rise. Statistics vary by jurisdiction, but somewhere around 50 percent of hit-and-run drivers are caught and successfully prosecuted. But in a way, as far as Brainerd car accident lawyers are concerned, these statistics matter little. Whether the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is caught or not, substantial compensation may be available.
No one is sure why the number of hit-and-runs is increasing. Some drivers are so distracted that they may not know they hit someone. That’s especially true of nighttime pedestrian crashes that involve child victims. Other drivers have no insurance or no drivers’ licenses and they fear the consequences. They figure it is better to flee the scene and take their chances.
Victims have basically two legal options in these vehicle collision claims. Which pathway is best usually depends on the facts of the case.
The Burden of Proof: The Decisive Factor?
Assume an unknown tortfeasor (negligent driver) hits a pedestrian. A witness at the scene said the vehicle was a dark color, late model SUV. However, the witness did not see the driver’s face and did not see any part of the license plate number. A few minutes later and a few miles away, a dark color, late model SUV ran a stoplight, and the red-light camera recorded the vehicle’s driver and license plate number.
In criminal court, where the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be impossible to convict any defendant with this evidence. If you want to play a fun game with your kids, drive by a shopping mall parking lot and count the number of late model, dark color SUVs that you see. Furthermore, identifying the car is probably not good enough. Unless the witness got a good look at the driver, the jury may not be convinced that the defendant was driving the vehicle at the time.
The subsequent video evidence is probably no help. Even if a criminal judge admits it, which is a big “if,” it’s not very compelling evidence.
But in civil court, things are a lot different. The burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence, a legal term which means more likely than not. Since the witness’ description matches the vehicle in the video footage, it is more likely than not that the two vehicles were one and the same.
Let’s make things more difficult. Assume that the second witness was not a video surveillance camera but an eyewitness that got a partial plate number and no look at the driver. A Brainerd car accident lawyer can patiently go through motor vehicle records and find a matching vehicle based on description, location, and partial plate. Unless the owner has a good alibi for the time of the accident, it’s more likely than not that this owner was also the tortfeasor.
Locating the Tortfeasor
To find the evidence necessary to locate the tortfeasor, Brainerd car accident lawyers have several options. Some of them include:
Reviewing Nearby Surveillance Video: In the previous example, Brainerd law enforcement officers probably would not have looked at the camera evidence. Such an inquiry is too much of a long shot. But diligent Brainerd car accident lawyers look under every rock, including cameras that may be several blocks or miles away from the accident scene.
Finding Additional Witnesses: There are many reasons why witnesses do not voluntarily come forward and speak to first responders. Perhaps they do not like police officers, or perhaps they do not want to avoid the attention of law enforcement. But these people are often willing to speak with a Brainerd car accident lawyer and share what they know about the crash.
Sometimes, attorneys partner with private investigators in these situations.
Damages in a Brainerd hit-and-run case usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additionally, many Crow Wing County jurors despise hit-and-run drivers. So, they are often willing to award additional punitive damages.
Brainerd Car Accident Lawyers and No-Defendant Claims
Some people believe that if there is no tortfeasor, there is no point in filing a claim for damages. But that’s simply not true.
In these situations, victims may normally file claims against their own insurance companies. Friendly insurance claims have a much different dynamic than adversarial insurance claims. The victim’s own insurance company understandably wants to keep its customer happy. So, friendly insurance claims often settle quickly and on victim-friendly terms. Conversely, many adversarial insurance claims are more difficult to successfully resolve. Many insurance companies fight adversarial claims tooth and nail.
Procedurally, the two types of claims are quite similar. However, if a Brainerd car accident lawyer cannot settle the case on favorable terms, it will probably go to arbitration instead of trial.