When people envision an auto wreck, their minds usually go to an image of two crashed vehicles on the side of the road, and the police are present talking to the parties and witnesses to document what occurred. As a result, an accident victim can readily identify the at-fault party and insurance company to pursue compensation for his or her injuries and losses. However, in a hit-and-run, if the other driver is never identified, the accident victim obviously cannot identify a driver or insurance company to pursue. Therefore, in order to obtain compensation for injuries sustained in a hit-and-run, the accident victim must use his or her Uninsured Motorist coverage. This can make recovering compensation more complicated, as there are procedural pitfalls awaiting an accident victim.
While using Uninsured Motorist coverage (also referred to as “UM”) may seem counterintuitive, under Wisconsin law, one of the definitions of an “uninsured motor vehicle” is “an unidentified motor vehicle involved in a hit-and-run accident with another person.” Since Wisconsin law requires every automobile insurance policy sold in the state to contain UM coverage, every Wisconsin automobile insurance policy has protection for a hit-and-run (the amount of protection depends on the limits of UM purchased).
The “more complicated” part referenced above comes from policy language that imposes additional duties on the accident victim in order to utilize the UM coverage for a hit-and-run. While every insurance company and policy is different (and they are always changing), many policies require the person making a claim for a hit-and-run to notify the police and the insurance company in a timely matter. Some insurers only require the person “promptly notify,” while others have even more stringent requirements of 30 days or even 72 hours. As always, you want to read and follow your policy’s duties and deadlines to avoid the argument that you breached the policy and are not entitled to UM coverage. Therefore, in addition to the ever-present three-year statute of limitations that the claim must be brought within, the policy imposes its own obligations.
As if not already complicated enough, if you are injured in an accident in which the unidentified vehicle did not physically make contact with your vehicle (a/k/a “phantom motor vehicle”), a set of even more stringent requirements await you. For example: a driver comes over the centerline forcing you to swerve, your vehicle overturns and you are injured. In this type of scenario, Wisconsin law requires that: (1) the facts be corroborated by “competent evidence” provided by someone other than the insured or the person making the claim; (2) within 72 hours of the accident, a report of the accident is made to the police, peace or judicial officer, or the DOT (or equivalent in another state); and (3) within 30 days after the accident, a statement under oath is filed with the insurer setting forth the claim and facts in support of the statement.
Depending on your viewpoint, these obligations permit the insurance company the opportunity to investigate difficult claims timely, serve as a way for insurance companies to deny meritorious claims, or a little bit of both. Regardless, they are but one example of why it is so important to seek representation immediately after an accident. Even without these potential procedural pitfalls, an accident victim is likely to face a fight with the insurance company over liability for the accident and what compensation is owed. You do not want to be barred from even making a claim because of failure to comply with any policy and statutory requirements.