If you have been involved in a hit and run accident in Maryland, you want to know what your legal rights are. This page explains how insurance claims work in hit-and-run car and phantom vehicle car accidents in Maryland.
It is illegal in Maryland, of course, for a driver to flee the scene of a motor vehicle collision if the driver was potentially involved in the crash. In spite of these laws, people panic and they flee the scene. There are also cases where a driver causes an accident but never sees the impact of his the negligence. (A perfect example is cutting someone off that sets off chain of events that leads to a crash.) Hit-and-run car accidents kill approximately 2,000 Americans a year and injure countless others. The questions is: do you have a claim when this happens?
Thankfully, there is a mechanism in Maryland law to recover your damages in these cases. How? When you (or whoever it was that was paying the insurance on the vehicle you were driving) pay our automobile insurance every month, one of the things you are paying for is insurance coverage in the event someone hits you or pushes you off the road and flees the scene before you identity them. It is one of the protections provided in your uninsured motorist coverage. The law assumes, for the purposes of your claim, that the at-fault driver who fled the scene had no insurance. Because for all practical purposes for you, she didn't.
What happens here is that the insurance company steps in and, in every way that matters, becomes the insurance company for the at-fault driver. This pits you against your own insurance company which leaves people with a bad taste in their mouths. But it beats the alternative -- having no way to get compensation for your loss because there is not one to bring an action against.
Clearly, you need to have a viable tort claim against the responsible party and could have obtained a favorable judgment had the at-fault driver been found. So you still have to establish that the driver negligently caused or is otherwise legally responsible for the accident. The insurance company can maintain all of the defenses that the at-fault driver would have had if they had been sued.
In sum, you are legally entitled to money damages under Maryland law if you would have had a viable tort claim against the true at-fault driver if that driver had been found. The amount of the money damages will be exactly what you would have recovered from the at-fault driver at trial if he had been sued. After all of the legal maneuvering and posturing, it usually comes down to a dispute as to how much the plaintiffs' injuries are worth. Often we agree with the insurance company on every single aspect of the case except the real issue: what the claim is worth.
As alluded to above, calling these claims "hit-and-run" is too narrow. Physical contact with the at-fault vehicle is not required. These are often called "phantom vehicle" cases. The classic example is when another driver forces you off the road or cuts you off, causing a collision. Our law firm has many of these types of claims. In a few of these cases, we ultimately believed the at-fault driver never knew they had caused an accident. They never looked back to see the consequences of their mistake.
The burden of proof still rests with the victim in these claims. The jury decides whether the victim has proved that it is more likely than not that the crash was proximately caused by the negligence of the driver of the phantom vehicle.
But these cases are generally relatively easy to prove. The witnesses are usually the victims and the witnesses. The person who fled the scene of the accident is not going to be there to defend himself. So usually it is the word of one or more witnesses against none.Jury Verdicts and Settlements in Hit-and Run/Phantom Vehicle Crashes
Below is a listing of some sample jury verdicts and out-of-court settlements in hit-and-run motor vehicle accident cases in Maryland and around the country. These are both good and not-so-good results. Either way, keep in mind that every case is decided, in the end, on the merits of that claim. There are so many different variables involved in each claim. Making things even more complicated, if you try the exact same case 10 different ways, you will get 10 different results. So why even make this information available? We still think they are instructive - with other sources of information - in getting an idea of the reasonable range of probable values in certain types of cases.
Let's start with Maryland:Maryland Hit-and-Run Settlements and Verdicts
- 2020, Maryland: $145,000 Verdict: An unknown motorist struck a woman’s vehicle and left the scene. The woman suffered sciatica and cervical radiculopathy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and soft-tissue neck and back injuries. She underwent chiropractic and physical therapy for treatment. The woman alleged that her insurer, Erie, failed to pay her the uninsured motorist benefits it was obligated to pay. Erie made the classic "she was not hurt all that bad" defense. The Baltimore City jury awarded a $145,000 verdict. The award was reduced to $100,000 because that was the amount of her uninsured motorist policy. (In some states, you would get the entire award plus additional compensation when you hit the insurer for more than the policy limits.)
- 2018, Maryland: $105,945 Verdict: A woman sustained knee and foot injuries after another vehicle struck hers. The vehicle left the scene, but she followed it and identified its driver. After settling with the driver’s liability carrier, she sued her underinsured carrier. The plaintiff sustained a meniscus tear that necessitated surgery. She also had a foot sprain and strain. The jury awarded her $105,944.87 in damages.
- 2017, Maryland: $103,000 Verdict: A woman suffered left arm and shoulder injuries after an unknown motorist changed lanes, struck her vehicle, and left the scene. She filed against State Farm for failing to pay her UIM coverage. State Farm contested the woman’s claims, arguing that she was partly at fault for the collision. They also disputed whether her medical treatments were necessary. The Baltimore City jury awarded a $103,000 verdict.
Let's look at some verdicts outside of Maryland:
- 2020, California: $50,000 Settlement: This hit-and-run case concerned an intoxicated defendant, who collided into the plaintiff's vehicle, injuring her and her two children, a son and daughter. Despite fleeing the scene of the accident, witnesses apprehended the defendant. The plaintiffs visited the emergency room after the collision. The mother experienced soft tissue neck and back injuries. Her son experienced a collarbone abrasion, while her daughter experienced a soft tissue neck injury. The plaintiff and her two children claim that the accident traumatized them. This case reached a confidential settlement of $50,000 (which is why the parties are not named).
- 2019, Connecticut: $478,218 Verdict: An unknown motorist ran a red light, T-boned a man’s vehicle, and fled the scene. The man and his passenger suffered multiple spinal injuries. They alleged that the man’s insurer, Safeco, refused to pay his UIM benefits. The jury awarded the man $201,298 and his passenger $274,920. Their verdict totaled $478,218.
- 2018, New York: $300,000 Settlement: A motorist rear-ended a 40-year-old man’s bicycle and left the scene. The man suffered closed head trauma, which resolved without permanent cognitive issues. He also sustained a shoulder fracture, which he underwent conservative treatment for. The man was hospitalized for a week and was subsequently transferred to a rehabilitative facility for an additional week. He missed several months of work. This case settled for the man’s entire $300,000 uninsured motorist policy.
- 2014, Florida: $2,000,000 Settlement: After abandoning their malfunctioning vehicle on Interstate 95, a young couple went walking along State Road 44 in New Smyra Beach to find assistance. They were stuck and killed by a plumbing van that sped off without hesitation, leaving the two to die in the grass along the shoulder. Eventually, the driver was found and arrested for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and driving with a suspended license. The families of the couple sued the driver and his employer for negligence. Plaintiffs claimed the driver was negligent in the operation of his vehicle and his employer was vicariously liable for his actions.
Our law firm handles motor vehicle accident cases. If you want to discuss your potential Maryland uninsured motorist claim with an experienced attorney, call 800-553-8082 or get a free on line internet consultation.Sample Uninsured Motorist Court Documents
- An explanation of UM coverage in Maryland
- UM statute
- Classic phantom vehicle accidents: single vehicle crashes