Brad Pollock: We are here today to talk to you about hit and run accidents. I’m Brad Pollock. In the studio today with me is Kevin Carlock.
Today, we’re going to talk about hit and runs. Kevin, how are you doing today?
Kevin Carlock: I’m doing great, Brad. Thanks for having me.
Brad Pollock: Good. Hit and runs, Kevin. We have a new law that’s come around, or we have a new law that’s about to come out. Tell us about it.
Kevin Carlock: We’ve got a couple new laws, and these are in response to what’s been really an unfortunate rash of hit and run incidents throughout the state, so the legislature is trying to address this.
On June the 5th, the governor signed senate bill 14-213, and what that does is that essentially doubles both the criminal and civil statute of limitations for hit and runs that involve vehicular homicide.
What’s a statute of limitations?
A statute of limitations sets the time in which legal action must be taken. There’s a statute of limitation for criminal acts, meaning that the state has to bring an action within a proscribed period of time, and there is a statute of limitations for civil acts, meaning that if you’re an injured party, you’re a plaintiff, you only have a certain amount of time to bring your claims against the negligent party.
What the legislature has done has given both the state and the relatives of victims of hit and runs, more time to bring legal action.
What we’ve done is we’ve doubled the criminal statute of limitations for hit and run from five years to ten years.
That’s going to give the police and our DA a lot more time to conduct investigations and bring actions against drivers that kill people and leave the scene, and we’ve done the same thing for the civil statute of limitations for wrongful death involving hit and run vehicular homicides. We’ve doubled that from two years to four years, so if you’re a relative of someone that’s been killed in a hit and run crash, then you’re going to have four years to bring that wrongful death action.
Brad Pollock: We’ve talked before about wrongful death actions and who has the right to bring them and when they have the right to bring them. You can tell our legislature is very concerned about the hit and runs, because the longest statute of limitations we normally have from a car accident case is three years.
Kevin Carlock: Right.
Brad Pollock: Now they’re going to four years for a hit and run, so you stop and think about it.
They’re giving you an extra year to bring your case, to find the person, to make your claim. The interesting part about that is the wrongful death statute, as Kevin was saying, is usually two years, so where they’re doubling that time period, they’re increasing by a year what you get for an injury, or the time you have to address an injury that has occurred. You’ve got to think that we’ve got a real epidemic or we’ve got a real concern about people not stopping and rendering aid.
When we start talking about it though, Kevin, we got to talk about why it’s so important. In our experience in our firm, we do know it’s important that people get medical care at the scene, if it’s available and if it’s needed, and that the ambulances are called, and the accident is properly investigated. The importance, Kevin, what do you notice when you’ve done your cases?
Kevin Carlock: One of the first things the insurance company is always looking for is what happened there at the scene of the accident.
Did the person complain about injuries to the responding police officer, if a police officer came?
Did the person request an ambulance?
One of the other things that the insurance company is looking for is how soon after the collision did a person first seek medical care?
Did they go to the hospital that day?
Did they wait a day or two, a week?
Those are some of the primary things that the insurance company is looking for, and if you’re missing some of those factors, then you’re going to have an issue with the insurance company trying to blame your injuries on something else or say you weren’t hurt in the accident.
Brad Pollock: We normally start with a hit and run that we think about, and this is where you hit and you make contact in a vehicle, a vehicle makes contact with a person, a pedestrian, insurance coverage, as we’ve talked about that, please look at our website. We’ve talked about what insurance coverages are available, and there are many insurance coverages available for pedestrian injuries.
Don’t fool yourself and think it’s just, “Well, they can’t find the car that hit us, so nobody can cover us, and we’re on our own, and we can’t get our bills paid.” That’s wrong.
Your own insurance, if it’s a minor, the parents’ insurance, that might very well be available to take care of that injury for the pedestrian. I know it sounds odd, but that’s the truth.
You need to talk to an attorney. You need to be engaged with an attorney who knows what they’re talking about, but we’re talking about injuries that can occur and that kind of thing on a pedestrian, because this is where a lot of your hit and runs occur.
The first thing we talk about is lacerations, abrasions, road rash, those type things, contusions, the injuries that happen out on the road when you’re just being struck. A lot of times, those injuries can be minimized if the person stops, and if the person gets emergency medical care, but the failure to get the emergency medical care can be a real problem, because now, all of a sudden, the person’s injuries are worsened. For instance, an injury that’s caused a laceration or a compound fracture where you have bleeding, may need immediate attention. A person could be bleeding. They may be in the need of immediate care. If you don’t stop, or if the driver hasn’t stopped and gotten medical care, you’ve got a problem.
Those are things and issues you have to think about, and you have to be able to address. Same thing with head injuries. Think about a head injury. We’ll be doing a show probably in a couple of weeks about concussions again as our children start playing sports, but a head injury in an accident, in a hit and run. Somebody gets hit. They go down. They suffered a head injury. That head injury may be in need of immediate care. You may not or the person who caused the accident may not know how to take care of that injury, but they can certainly try and give comfort to the person. Remember, sometimes in a hit and run, the person who has been hit has been left out on the road. We’ve got other traffic. Somebody could get hurt while you’re going out on the other traffic, or while other traffic is coming by.
Somebody’s got to stop that traffic. Somebody’s got to protect the injured person.
Kevin, let’s talk about what you need to do to address those kind of injuries as far as if they haven’t been addressed, and the hit and run person could have helped the injured person but didn’t, and now your client’s injury is great. Your victim’s injury has been increased, because immediate care and aid wasn’t given.
Brad Pollock: The fact that the time period has been doubled, long past what a normal accident is, just to be able to address hit and runs, shows that emphasis that our legislature and our laws, and those who pass the laws want to put on the fact that we want people stopping. The criminal penalties are severe. They’ve been made much more severe.
A lot of times, the driver who has caused the accident is in a dilemma, because the driver who has caused the accident in this dilemma and who has caused the accident, has, in fact, been drinking, is on drugs, and is trying to hide a different problem, and now we’re going to be facing other issues with respect to that driver.
If you’re a victim or if you know someone who is a victim of a hit and run accident, there’s questions that have to be addressed. Quite often, Kevin, the problem comes up because we’re dealing with people who have been drinking, or have some other reason why they want to run.
Kevin Carlock: Right.
Brad Pollock: They want to run because they think they’d be in more trouble if they stayed and they got the DUI, or they got the driving under revocation or under suspension. These are things we have to deal with. When you’re bringing your lawsuit … First of all, Kevin, can you just automatically file a punitive claim or do you have to do more?
Kevin Carlock: No. What punitive damages are for is something beyond mere negligence.
You’re talking about what we call willful and wanton conduct. It goes beyond mere negligence, and usually in those hit and run cases, you’re going to have that, whether it’s someone who is under the influence or driving recklessly, you’re going to have the facts that support that willful and wanton claim, and what you have to do is leave a punitive damages claim out of your suit at the beginning.
You’re still going to be making a claim for your economic losses, your medical bills.
You’re still going to be making a claim for your non-economic losses, like your pain and suffering.
But those punitive damages are there to punish the defendant, not to compensate the injured party. They are there to punish, and what you have to do is wait. Exchange initial disclosures with the opposing party, conduct some discovery, and then you have to move to amend your complaint, and ask the trial court judge to let you make this claim.
That’s essentially the process, and the trial court is going to make a decision, “Okay, has the plaintiff presented enough evidence to justify making a punitive damages claim in this case,” and in the normal circumstances of a hit and run, where you’ve got something like driving under the influence, that’s the classic kind of case where the judge is going to say, “Yes, I’m going to allow you to make this kind of claim.”
Brad Pollock: You have the defense, and the insurance companies are going to say, “We don’t care if there was a hit and run. We’re only concerned about the accident. We don’t care if the person ran, because although they ran, that didn’t make the injuries worse. That didn’t cause any more problems,” and that’s where a good plaintiff’s lawyer has to look at the case, and start analyzing the case.
Were the person’s injuries made worse as a result of laying there on the street?
Was there a psychological or emotional component that is there when you’ve been hit, you’re laying on the street?
The person who hits you takes off. Is there a psychological or emotional component to it?
You deal with that kind of stuff.
You worry about things such as was the person worried about being exposed to additional injury or additional danger when they’re laying there on the street, as far as other pedestrians taking advantage of them, other cars hitting them. If you have people who come to their aid right away, is there still that feeling of being upset, of being violated by someone who doesn’t care enough to even stop.
Kevin Carlock: Right, and that’s going to depend on the facts of the case.
If you have someone that’s involved in a hit and run, maybe in a crowded urban area, then maybe that’s not going to necessarily affect the timeliness of medical treatment to that injured party, but if you have someone that’s hit in maybe a rural area, and is left on the pavement for hours, that can have a real significant effect on that person’s injuries, and that person’s failure to stop and render aid and call for an ambulance is going to be something that affects both the medical damage to that person, and is going to make a case for the punitive damages.
Brad Pollock: It’s one of the first things a lawyer has to find out is did the delay in treatment, did the time they were laying on the pavement, or did the time they were hurt inside the car when the car was smashed from behind or smashed from the side and the person took off, did it cause additional pain?
Did it cause additional injury?
Is it a problem?
You, also, have to look and think … It’s just about a no brainer to say you can look at punitive damages when somebody has been driving their car under the influence and has caused an accident. Most judges are going to grant that claim and that request when it comes time. The person may be able to avoid that and may be able to argue there shouldn’t be punitive damages if it’s a hit and run.
One of the jobs your lawyer has, or your lawyer has to do when helping you, the injured victim, is to take a look at the case and determine why did this person run?
What was the reason for them running?
Kevin Carlock: Right. Sometimes you’re looking at someone … Maybe the police catch this guy two days after the accident, and it’s too late to do a breathalyzer test, too late to do roadside tests. You’re going to need a lawyer that’s going to go get discovery.
What was this guy doing that night?
Try to look for his cell phone records. You’re looking for his bank records to see whether he was spending money at bars. Things like that are going to be essential to determining why did this person run, and you’re going to need a good aggressive lawyer that’s out there getting that information.
Brad Pollock: Get them into a deposition, find out what was happening, find out why he was doing the things he was doing, and what caused him to flee, to take off, or was he hurt in the accident, was it a two car accident where he was hurt, and maybe he has a reason for running, but you still need to take a look at it. The lawyer must address it, and be ready for the defense arguments that, “Hey, it didn’t cause any more injury. It’s not really punitive. It shouldn’t be a problem. That’s really something that should be excluded from the courtroom,” and they’ll try and exclude that entire bit of evidence.
Brad Pollock: Last thing we want to leave you with is how you can help with hit and runs.
Hit and runs are serious. We need to make sure that the person who has hit somebody stops, and we’re not going to automatically say they’re bad persons. We got to find out why they didn’t stop and what’s going on, but what’s coming in, Kevin, to help us find the person?
Kevin Carlock: Starting in 2015, we’ve got a state wide alert system. It’s going to be like Amber Alerts. That’s going to send out an alert. If there’s been a serious hit and run crash, they’re going to give you a vehicle description, so be on the lookout for those coming next year state wide. We’ve already got a system in Denver and Aurora in place.
Brad Pollock: If you see a hit and run, get ahold of the authorities immediately. Stop and give some people the aid, help the person who was hurt.
You’ve been listening to the Bell & Pollock Legal Show, the only show of its kind call 303-795-5900 if we can be of help.