California Hit-and-Run

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A hit-and-run can be tried as a misdemeanor or a felony in California and carries possible penalties including fines up to $10,000 and prison time from 90 days to 9 years.
If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run in California, you should attempt to identify the car, report the crime to the police, and file an insurance claim if you have collision or uninsured motorist coverage.
It’s illegal in every state to leave the scene of an accident without providing your personal and insurance information, but every state sets different punishments for this serious crime.
If you’ve been the victim of a hit-and-run in California, car insurance comparison and broker app Jerry is on your side. In this article, we’ll break down what constitutes a hit-and-run, how to report it, and how to file an insurance claim. We’ll also cover the possible penalties if you committed a hit-and-run in California. 

What is a hit-and-run? 

A hit-and-run is a traffic collision where the driver fails to stop afterward. By law, if you hit another vehicle, person, or property, you must stop and provide your insurance information so that the other party can pursue a claim.
It doesn’t matter who is at fault in the accident—if you leave the scene of an accident that someone else caused, you are guilty of a hit-and-run. Always stay at the scene of a collision and exchange information with the other driver(s) to avoid criminal charges. 

What happens if you commit a hit-and-run in California?

If you’re involved in any kind of motor vehicle collision, do not leave the scene of the accident. It’s easy to panic, but leaving without giving the other driver your personal and insurance information could have serious legal and financial consequences. 

Is a hit-and-run a felony in California? 

In California, a hit-and-run can qualify as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the result of the accident. If the collision caused only property damage, it will be tried as a misdemeanor, but a hit-and-run that causes injuries or death is typically tried as a felony.
You can be tried for felony hit-and-run even if you leave the site of an accident that you did not cause or one that caused only minor injuries. However, in some cases it’s possible to have a felony hit-and-run charge reduced to a misdemeanor. 

What is the punishment for a hit-and-run in California? 

The punishment for a hit-and-run in California depends on the extent of the damage or injuries caused by the collision.
If you commit a hit-and-run that results in only property damage, the maximum sentence is imprisonment in county jail for 6 months and a $1,000 fine. If your hit-and-run resulted in serious injury or death, however, you could be sent to state prison for up to 4 years and fined as much as $10,000.
Here’s how the possible punishments for a hit-and-run in California break down:
Result of accidentPossible punishment
Property damage onlyUp to 6 months in county jailFine up to $1,000Both imprisonment and fine
Minor injuriesUp to 1 year in county jail or state prisonFine from $1,000 to $10,000Both imprisonment and fine
Serious injury (loss or permanent impairment of a body part or limb)2-4 years in state prison or 90 days in county jailFine from $1,000 to $10,000Both imprisonment and fine
Death2-4 years in state prison or 90 days in county jailFine from $1,000 to $10,000Both imprisonment and fine
If you committed the hit-and-run while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you could face an additional 5 years of imprisonment on top of the sentences laid out above.
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How to avoid a hit-and-run charge

According to California Vehicle Code 20002, if you’re involved in an accident that results in damage to any property, including vehicles, you must “immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists.” You must then:
  • Locate and notify the owner of the property. 
  • Present your license and registration, including your current address, to the owner
  • If you can’t find the owner, leave a conspicuous notice on or near the property including your name, address, and an explanation of the circumstances
  • Report the accident to the police promptly
Section 20001 of the Vehicle Code states that drivers must stop and follow the same steps after accidents that result in the injury or death of any person. You must also offer “reasonable assistance,” including transport to a hospital, to anyone injured in the crash.
If you fail to do any of the above, you could be found guilty of a hit-and-run. In order to convict you of a hit-and-run under California law, the prosecution must prove that you knew you were involved in an accident that caused property damage, injury, or death and that you left the scene willfully.

What should I do if I experience a hit-and-run in California? 

If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run in California, it’s important to stay calm and gather as much information as you can, and report the crime promptly

At the scene

Do not try to follow the car. Instead, first make sure that no one in your car is injured, and move your car to a safe location if necessary. Then, call 911 to get any medical attention required and to summon the police to the site of the accident.
Try to note as much of the following information as you can while you’re still at the scene:
  • The circumstances of the crash
  • The other car’s make, model, color, and body style
  • The license plate number of any vehicles involved
  • The appearance of the driver
  • The direction the car was headed
  • Any unique identifying marks on the other car (e.g. dents, mods, bumper stickers, etc.)
Talk to other witnesses and examine the scene of the crash for additional information, such as the paint color of the other car. It’s also a good idea to take photos of the crash site and of your car to document the accident. 

After you leave the scene

Make sure that the officer at the scene files a police report. This report helps you in two ways: first, it increases the chances of finding the culprit, and second, it’s important corroborating evidence for your insurance claim.
File an insurance claim within 24 hours following a hit-and-run.
If you or the police were able to identify the driver or if you have their license plate number, their liability insurance should cover the damage and your insurance company will handle the claim like any other accident.
If you don’t have any information about the driver or their vehicle, filing a claim becomes more difficult. If you only have liability insurance, you’re out of luck. However, you may be covered if you have collision coverage, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, medical payments (MedPay) coverage, or personal injury protection (PIP).

What insurance covers a hit-and-run?

How to find affordable insurance for collisions and more 

Whether you’ve just been in a hit-and-run or want to guard against future accidents, Jerry can help you find the lowest rate available on the coverage you need, including collision coverage and personal injury protection.
You won’t need to fill out endless forms or wait on hold with insurance companies—just download the app, answer a few questions, and Jerry will connect you instantly with competitive quotes from up to 50 top insurance companies. Once you’ve found the best rate, Jerry will handle all the paperwork to make sure you’re covered.
 “Jerry quoted me a price that saved me almost $4000 a year in California! I definitely recommend Jerry.” —Patricia B.
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FAQs

Being the victim of a hit-and-run generally won’t affect your insurance, even if you need to make a claim. In fact, your insurance carrier might not even require you to pay your deductible. However, if you commit a hit-and-run, you can expect to see your insurance premium rise as a result of being charged with a violation.
A hit-and-run is a serious charge. It’s a good idea to seek legal counsel if you’ve committed a hit-and-run.

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