What happens when someone hits you with their vehicle, and they drive off from the accident scene? The at fault driver is unidentified. The collision took place so quickly, that you weren’t able to get a license plate number. The at fault driver obviously didn’t stop to check if you are ok; or to exchange insurance information. Or perhaps the injuries are so bad that you loose consciousness; or you are in so much pain that you can’t track down the at fault driver.
How do you handle these situations? How do you sue a party who cannot be identified?
These are great questions.
These types of unidentified driver situations happen more than you might think.
Often, when they happen, the at fault driver has their nefarious reasons for not stopping. They might be trying to avoid all interaction with the police because they shouldn’t be driving; the are operating a vehicle illegally; they have something illegal/stolen in their vehicle; they are operating a stolen vehicle; or a vehicle which they aren’t allowed to be driving; they are unlicensed; they are uninsured; or perhaps they have so many car accidents on their driving record that one more will result in an automatic suspension of their driver’s license; or a dramatic increase of their car insurance premiums. In all of these situations, the at fault driver is attempting to avoid any interaction with authorities.
In other cases, the at fault driver may not have even known that they were involved in an accident at all. They may have not noticed, or felt any impact resulting from the collision. This can happen when a large vehicle makes the slightest contact with a cyclist or a pedestrian. The impact to the large vehicle is hardly noticeable on account of the size of the vehicle. On the other hand, the impact to the pedestrian or cyclist can be catastrophic
It’s an offense under section 200 of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act to flee the scene of a car accident. The wording of the Highway Traffic Act also contains a special provision as it relates to the offense of “dooring“. This is when someone opens their car door, and that door hits a passing cyclist.
Duty of person in charge of vehicle in case of accident
(a) remain at or immediately return to the scene of the accident;
(b) render all possible assistance; and
(c) upon request, give in writing to anyone sustaining loss or injury or to any police officer or to any witness his or her name, address, driver’s licence number and jurisdiction of issuance, motor vehicle liability insurance policy insurer and policy number, name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle and the vehicle permit number. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 200 (1); 1997, c. 12, s. 16.
(1.1) For the purposes of subsection (1), a motor vehicle is deemed to be involved in an accident if any door of the motor vehicle that is open or opening comes into contact with a cyclist, a bicycle or a moving vehicle, even if the motor vehicle is stationary, stopped or parked. 2021, c. 26, Sched. 1, s. 19.
(2) Every person who contravenes this section is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine of not less than $400 and not more than $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both, and in addition the person’s licence or permit may be suspended for a period of not more than two years.
Failing to remain at the scene of a car accident is also a criminal offense under the Criminal Code of Canada (so it’s not just an Ontario thing, and it can even have a great penalty if convicted under the Criminal Code).
For starters, the accident should be reported to the police right away. The police have a lot of tools up their sleeves to track down the unidentified driver.
You also need to report to your OWN car insurer not only that you have been involved in a car accident; but the car accident was with a driver who failed to remain and who is unidentified. This is very important because there’s a good chance that your OWN INSURER, will have to defend the claim. I realize that seems odd, but that’s how car insurance works. You are required to have it as a motorist just in case you run in to a situation like this. This puts you at odds with your own insurer, but this is how Ontario’s no fault system has been designed. Your own insurer will do their own investigations and due diligence. They will want to track down the unidentified driver just as much as you will. That way, they might be able to pass the blame (and the buck) along with another insurer. But, if that driver remains unidentified, or uninsured, your own insurance company will have to defend the claim. That’s why it’s important to give your own insurer notice as soon as possible of the collision.
What happens if you didn’t have your own car insurance because you were a pedestrian, or riding a bike? What happens if there’s no car insurance to be found? Don’t fret or worry. There are laws which protect uninsured accident victims from uninsured or unidentified drivers. In those cases, the accident victim will need to make a claim through the Motor Vehicle Accident Claims Fund (or the Fund). This is a government body which administers and defends claims to indemnify accident victims where people are driving illegally without insurance; and there is no car insurance whatsoever to be found on the Plaintiff side of the equation. Claims against the Fund are limited to just $200,000; which is considerably lower than the $1,000,000 policy limits contained in a standard auto policy in Ontario.