UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE IN THE WAKE OF A HIT AND RUN: A Touch of Relief in the Wake of Tragedy

On Saturday May 11, 2013 – the day before Mother’s Day – news reports in Richmond, VA and Chesterfield, VA detailed two unrelated accidents involving hit-and-run drivers. Will Bagby and Jonathan Clark were severely injured when a tractor trailer struck their bicycles as they were riding on the side of the road.[1] Elizabeth West, a 19 year old girl, was tragically killed as she was walking across an intersection near her home.[2] Both drivers – unidentified at the time of this writing – fled the scene of the accidents.

As families across the country prepared to honor their mothers and grandmothers with a day of celebration, my thoughts were with the families of these victims, suffering unimaginable grief in the wake of unexplained tragedy. Their collective anguish is undoubtedly compounded by the fact that the drivers responsible for the crash didn’t have the decency to stop and help their injured loved ones at a time when aid was needed the most. No matter the motivation, fleeing the scene of an automobile accident simply adds insult to injury, making an already bad situation worse for everyone involved.

Virginia law requires the driver of an automobile to stop as close to the scene of an accident as possible and provide their identifying information to other involved parties or law enforcement officials.[3] If the accident injures or kills another person or if the collision results in more than $1000 in property damage, failing to comply with this obligation is a felony punishable by up to 10 years incarceration and a fine of as much as $2,500.[4] Unfortunately, successful prosecution of hit-and-run cases is dependent on the police subsequently indentifying the perpetrator. Far too often drivers who flee the scene of an accident are never identified, and thus never prosecuted.

Thankfully, Virginia’s civil law provides the victims of these hit-and-run accidents some relief. Virginia’s civil statutes require that every automobile insurance policy issued in the Commonwealth contain uninsured motorist coverage.[5] Unless a named insured on the liability policy rejects additional coverage in writing, the limits of that uninsured motorist coverage are identical to the liability limits on the policy. By way of example, if a person carries the minimum $25,000 liability insurance coverage on their vehicle as required in Virginia, that person and others covered under the policy or in that vehicle are also entitled to $25,000 in coverage if they are injured in an automobile accident caused by someone who is uninsured. Virginia law further states that, “[a] motor vehicle shall be deemed uninsured if its owner or operator is unknown.”[6] Accordingly, victims of hit-and-run accidents can recover financial compensation up to their applicable coverage limits even when the offending driver is never identified in the wake of a collision.

As personal injury attorneys, we deal with unexpected, seemingly preventable auto accidents that forever change the lives of our injured clients on a daily basis. In many of these cases, people seriously injured in auto accidents have a very limited recollection of the facts and circumstances leading up to the crash.[7] Sometimes their injuries leave them with no memory of the event at all.[8] Through diligent independent investigation and collaboration with law enforcement agencies we are often able to collect an accurate description of the facts and circumstances that led up to a hit-and-run accident. Aside from its value in court, our clients and their families receive the cathartic benefit of an answer to the resounding question: why did this happen?

When an unidentified driver flees the scene of an accident that injures or even kills another person, the victim and their families will never get the apology to which they are entitled. At least by utilizing Virginia’s uninsured motorist laws those injured in hit-and-run accidents can receive some financial assistance to help them on their long road to recovery. While the remedy isn’t perfect, at least it’s a start.

About the Author: Christopher J. Toepp is a Fredericksburg, VA personal injury lawyer dedicated to helping people who have been injured by the negligence of others. He is experienced in handling cases of victims injured in hit and run and pedestrian accidents as well as car accidents and premises liability accidents. Chris works in the Fredericksburg, Virginia office of Allen & Allen and serves clients across Northern Virginia and Central Virginia.


[1] See article “Injured hit-and-run Cap2Cap riders in Charles City identified”, May 13, 2013, at http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/crime/article_e26aa84e-7e00-5488-9c40-7eae90b13fee.html.

[2] See article “Police seek driver who killed woman in Chesterfield “, May 13, 2013, at http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/chesterfield/article_0890e6b9-2653-50b6-bbad-3e51387f60ee.html.

[3]See Virginia Code §46.2-894 at http://leg1.state.va.us/000/cod/46.2-894.HTM.

[4] Hit and Run is a Class 5 felony. See Virginia Code §18.2-10 at http://leg1.state.va.us/000/cod/18.2-10.HTM.

[5] See Virginia Code §38.2-2206 at http://leg1.state.va.us/000/cod/38.2-2206.HTM.

[6] See Virginia Code §38.2-2206 at http://leg1.state.va.us/000/cod/38.2-2206.HTM.

[7] Automobile accidents are a major contributing cause of short-term memory loss. See http://www.webmd.com/brain/memory-loss.

[8]The National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury suggests that 70% of people suffering from traumatic brain injury have difficulty forming short term memories for up to 1 year after the traumatic event. For more information on traumatic brain injury, see the Traumatic Brain Injury Center’s website at http://www.tbinrc.com/cognitive .