Lessons from Lindsay Lohan Hit-and-Run
Lindsay Lohan is no stranger to a courtroom. The frequently maligned celebrity’s legal drama was the talk of the tabloids throughout 2011. Now LiLo once again finds herself at the mercy of the law after being sued for injuries caused during a hit-and-run.
According to witnesses, Lohan allegedly ran a red light while turning left in September 2010, striking Nubia Del Carmen Preza, who was crossing the street while pushing a stroller. The starlet then allegedly fled the scene. Preza is suing for unspecified damages to compensate her for her medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Hit-and-run scenarios like Lohan’s are more common than most people think. According to a 2003 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hit-and-run scenarios account for as many as 19 percent of all pedestrian-related crashes.
“The natural reaction of a lot of people is that when they hit somebody they just want to get out of there,” says Michael Nysather, a partner at Wade & Nysather. “They could have been drinking, or they could have just been scared.”
Both drivers and pedestrians need to be prepared in the event they’re involved in a LiLo-like accident. The following are some tips on how to best handle a hit-and-run scenario.
If You’re the Driver
If you find yourself in Lohan’s shoes, the first thing you should do is immediately return to the scene of the accident.
“If you panic and leave the scene, the smartest thing to do is to come back,” says Lynette Hoag, a lawyer at Hoag Law Group in Chicago. “Give the pedestrian your information. Provide them with your insurance information.”
Nysather says returning to the scene is not only the right and legal thing to do, but it may also help diminish the severity of your criminal charges and any potential civil suit.
“To the extent that someone returns to the scene, they are mitigating potential criminal and civil penalties down the road,” Nysather says. “The law is designed to punish those who leave the scene, but it’s not so demanding so that if you do return it will hold you accountable for all the penalties.”
Drivers involved in hit-and-run scenarios will also want to reach out to both a criminal and an insurance attorney as soon as possible. You may also be able to find attorneys that can handle both the criminal and civil aspects of the incident.
“For your civil case, you’re going to want an attorney that knows insurance coverage,” Hoag says. “Typically your insurance company will provide you with an attorney, but you don’t have to take it. Criminally, you need a criminal lawyer.”
Depending on the specifics of the driver’s insurance policy, his or her insurance provider will likely try to strike a settlement with the pedestrian. If the driver does not have insurance or if the specifics of the accident negate the policy—such as driving while intoxicated—then the pedestrian or the pedestrian’s insurer might sue the driver directly. Furthermore, if the court awards punitive damages, the driver may be on the hook for these costs, since insurance often does not cover punitive damages.
If You’re the Pedestrian
For those that find themselves under the wheel, as opposed to behind the wheel, the first thing you should do is seek immediate medical attention. Aside from this, you should also make any attempts, if possible, to identify the car or any witnesses to the accident.
“I’d say about half the time, the driver in a hit-and-run does come back,” Nysather says. “If that doesn’t happen, you can hopefully catch the driver’s license plate information or track down a witness who saw what happened.”
You can also call the police to file criminal charges. The pedestrian’s involvement in the criminal proceedings may vary, but usually prosecutors will attempt to strike a plea deal with the perpetrator to avoid trial.
“Generally, if the case doesn’t go to trial, the only involvement of the victim is in the form of a statement,” Nysather says. “If it does go to trial, the victim might be subpoenaed as a witness.”
If you are able to identify the driver and the driver does have insurance, the driver’s insurer will assess the scenario and attempt to strike a settlement agreement with you to pay for your damages, which can include past and future medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, property damage, disability and even loss of consortium.
If you are unable to identify the driver or the driver is uninsured or underinsured to cover all your damages, you may be able to rely on your own insurance to cover the cost of your injuries.
“If you purchase underinsured/uninsured insurance as part of your auto coverage, your coverage will pay for your damages if you either can’t track down driver or if the driver does not have adequate insurance,” Nysather says. “This underinsured/uninsured coverage is really important to have.”
To better understand your rights under the law and under your insurance policy, hit-and-run victims should reach out to a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. You can also contact your insurance provider and ask direct questions about what your policy does and does not cover.
“You’ve got to ask your insurance provider direct questions to understand your policy,” Hoag says. “Don’t assume you are covered.”