Trial of Accused Panama City Beach Hit-and-Run Driver Serves as Opportunity to Remember the Rights of Hit-and-Run Victims

With more than 35 years' experience as a Panama City personal injury lawyer, Attorney Wes Pittman understands that car accidents leave victims with both emotional and physical scars. The mental suffering may be compounded where the driver who caused the crash fails to stop and take responsibility for his or her actions. Hit-and-run accidents leave both the immediate victims and the community overall as a whole angry, disillusioned, and looking for answers.

A Pending Case and a "Hit and Run Car Culture"

A jury seated in a local courtroom is being asked to weigh the evidence against a Panama City Beach woman charged in a hit-and-run that killed a local pedestrian. According to the News Herald, 23-year-old Juliana Ellzey stands accused of hitting 26-year-old Allison Simms, a pedestrian, and then fleeing the South Thomas Drive scene during the early hours of January 20, 2012.

Panama City Beach Police arrested Ellzey about 24 hours after the collision, and police reports indicate that Simms' DNA was found on the hood of the Chevy Trailblazer that the defendant said she was driving the prior night. The first-degree felony charge of leaving the scene of a collision involving a death carries a potential 30-year prison term. Prosecutor Bob Sombathy has asked Judge James Fensom to prohibit the defense from offering certain evidence regarding the reputations of both the victim and the defendant.

The Ellzey/Simms case is just one of the many hit-and-run accidents seen on Florida's roadways. While we hope things have improved in the recent years, since Time magazine ran an article on November 20, 2009 titled "Florida's Deadly Hit-and-Run Car Culture," statistics are tough to come by. In the Time article, they noted that South Florida continually held the dubious position of being among the nation's most dangerous regions for fatal hit-and-run collisions. While the article focused on the southern half of our state, our region sees more than its share of hit-and-run crashes, a fact we know firsthand from talking to the victims.

Sources of Compensation for Florida Hit-and-Run Victims

Hit-and-run victims have the right to be compensated for their injuries. In Florida, if the hit-and-run driver remains unidentified, the first recourse for victims is their own Personal Injury Protection ("PIP") Insurance. As we discussed in these pages last month, significant changes took effect on January 1 that impact PIP claims. These changes make it even more important that victims, including those involved in hit-and-runs, seek prompt medical care. Victims must also be sure to get referrals if they need follow-up care.

If a hit-and-run victim's injuries exceed the value of their PIP coverage (usually $10,000), the next recourse will be the Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist ("UIM") portion of their insurance. While insurance companies must offer UIM coverage, drivers are not required to purchase this coverage. The hit-and-run scenario is just one of the reasons we recommend that all drivers purchase UIM coverage. In addition to paying for injuries above the PIP limit, UIM coverage can also include damages for pain and suffering as well as victim's diminished earning capacity. As with any claim, insurance companies are not eager to pay, so hiring an experienced Florida insurance lawyer can be crucial to recovering the full amount you are due.

Police, victim's counsel, and the victim's insurance carrier may all be involved in helping identify a driver who fled the scene of an accident that caused injury or death. If the driver involved in a hit-and-run is later identified, a victim can file a personal injury claim in civil court. A Panama City injury lawyer can help the victim prove that the other driver's negligence was the direct cause of the victim's injuries. As always, the civil case will proceed separately from any criminal suit against a hit-and-run driver.

Concluding Thoughts from a Panama City Hit-and-Run Victim's Law Firm

If readers take away only one message from this post, let it be this: hit-and-run victims, like any victims injured by someone else's negligent or wrongful acts, have the right to be compensated for their injuries. Medical care should always come first, but victims of hit-and-run accidents in northwest Florida should call a hit-and-run injury lawyer as soon as possible in order to protect their legal rights. We can help.

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