Not all car accidents involve injuries and the exchange of insurance information. Some don't even involve two moving vehicles. It's not uncommon for a driver to hit a parked car and then leave the scene without making any attempt to notify the vehicle's owner about what happened. If this happens to you, it's natural to want to ascertain the identity of the hit-and-run driver. And these days surveillance cameras seem almost as prevalent as traffic signals. So can you get your hands on the all-important tape?
The Hit-and Run...
After gassing up your car, you pull into a parking space and go into the adjacent liquor store to purchase some snacks. When you return to your car, you notice a large dent, and scratches that weren't there before. You're pretty sure someone hit your car while you were in the store, and then took off without leaving a note.
After composing yourself, you look around in vain for any witnesses, and then notice that both the liquor store and the gas station have surveillance cameras that quite possibly could have captured the hit and run incident.
...Then the Runaround
You return to the liquor store and ask the clerk if you can obtain a copy of the surveillance video. She tells you she doesn't know, and that you will have to contact the store manager. You are given a similar response by the clerk at the gas station.
When you contact these managers, you are told that you will have to take the matter up with "corporate," and you're given the numbers of their respective home offices. One company tells you that its corporate policy is to not voluntarily provide copies of surveillance videos, and that these videos are only turned over in response to a court subpoena. The other company advises you that you need to make a formal written request on a form it will provide to you, and that you should expect to receive a response to your request within 6 to 8 weeks.
Neither answer is satisfactory to you because you want to look at these videos now to determine if they captured identifying information about the hit and run driver and/or his vehicle. You are rightfully frustrated and want to know if there is anything else you can do.
Your Rights are Limited, But You Have Options
Private surveillance videos shot by stores and other commercial businesses are the property of the businesses themselves, and accident victims have no legal right to obtain them.
Having said that, you can request copies of these videos, and some businesses may grant your request. Just keep in mind that they are not legally required to do so.
Surveillance videos can be the subject of a subpoena in a court case -- including in a car accident lawsuit -- and if the judge grants the subpoena, that means the video must be produced unless a valid defense to its production is raised.
Bottom line: Unless the business shooting the video is cooperative or you bring a court action to compel its production, you will not be able to obtain surveillance video to help identify the hit and run driver who damaged your vehicle.
One way to increase the chances of obtaining surveillance video is to make sure there's a police report related to the hit and run incident. When law enforcement comes to the scene, let them know that there are surveillance cameras in the area. When the police investigate the incident, they will likely visit the businesses where the cameras are located and ask to see the videos. These businesses may be more willing to cooperate with the police than they are with individual citizens, perhaps out of a sense that their cooperation will result in enhanced police protection of their premises. So, calling law enforcement to the scene and making sure a police report is prepared in connection with the incident may be the biggest key in your quest to identify the hit and run driver who damaged your vehicle.