I was Hit/Run, I found culprit car! How to locate registered owner? (WA)
May 22, 2014 8:25 PM   Subscribe

About three weeks ago my parked car was hit and run in the middle of the night (~$550 damage, I did not file a police report). I found the car that did it!

- A neighbor left a note to say he heard it and looked and could identify the make/model/color
- The culprit left their hubcap at the scene and I have it
- I found the matching car at a nearby address: make/model/color matches, damage matches exactly, missing one hubcap, other three hubcaps match the hubcap I have

I'd like to recover the money I spent on repairs. I will probably leave a letter on the car itself with the evidence I have and a record of my actual monetary damages. I'm going to include my address and ask that they mail reimbursement within a certain timeframe. I will also let them know that I'll pursue more formal processes if they don't send reimbursement.

My next step would be to send a certified letter to the vehicle's registered owner.

How to I identify a vehicle's registered owner in Washington State?

I'm willing to pay a fee for this (which I'll include in any damages). I'll then send a certified letter requesting reimbursement (again within a specific timeframe) and escalate to small claims court if necessary.

Any advice on where to buy this data? I've read that Lexis Nexis has a product that does this but it doesn't seem accessible to me for one-off searches.
posted by reeddavid to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go to the cops. Call your insurance company. Let those agencies do their things. That is what they are for.
posted by Etrigan at 8:35 PM on May 22, 2014 [19 favorites]

(.... but take pictures first)
posted by Dashy at 8:42 PM on May 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Wait, to make sure I understand, a person lacked the decency to leave a note after hitting your car and your plan is to implicitly threaten them and then provide them with your name and home address?

Call the cops.
posted by AaRdVarK at 9:01 PM on May 22, 2014 [15 favorites]

To anyone reasonable, your request for reimbursement would seem, well, reasonable.

To this person, you may come across as threatening* so why would you give them your home address?

Call the police.

*Or worse, trying to be threatening without a leg to stand on (otherwise police would be involved already), and therefore an easy target for retaliation to your threat. Nice people don't hit and run. Don't give this not-nice person your address.
posted by whoiam at 9:20 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

yep, take photos of their car, their license plate, their car damage, the side that shows their hubcaps and the one missing.
Then take your evidence to your insurance company and let them pursue.
File a police report too.
posted by calgirl at 9:21 PM on May 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Take pictures, definitely. And then yes, call the police.

Though perhaps you will get a different result than you expect - when we lived in Seattle and had to call about a car parked in front of our house on the street for days and days, they just gave us the name & address of the owner (1 block from our house) since apparently impounding takes weeks and weeks. We wrote them a nice note asking them to move the car (which they did, immediately).

Perhaps for actual damage they will actually show up and do something.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 9:22 PM on May 22, 2014

Thanks for the answers so far. Some additional information:

- I carry only liability insurance, not comprehensive, so I cannot recover any money from my insurance

- I took photos of the damaged car before moving it to be repaired

- I took photos of the culprit car's damaged mirror, missing hub cap, matching hubcaps and license plate

- I don't believe this person to be malicious or intentionally dangerous, just negligent and irresponsible. I think the simplest explanation is that they were driving drunk (which can no longer be proven) and got scared and drove away.

- My goal is to be reimbursed for the repairs to the car. If I got no money and this driver was convicted of a crime, I'd be less satisfied than if I were reimbursed for repairs and the driver never faced legal consequences. I'm only interested in law enforcement if it helps me get reimbursed.

- my question remains: how to identify the registered owner of this vehicle?
posted by reeddavid at 9:34 PM on May 22, 2014

You're ignoring the correct answers. Call the cops. this is what they're for. If the police get involved, here are the things that could happen if the driver gets convicted:

1. You get no real money because the driver has no money.

2. The driver has money (or a job) and is ordered to pay by the court.

In the both cases, the court has an abundance of power and authority to take whatever money might exist and give it to you. If #1 is true, no course of action of yours is going to result in money in your pocket.

Quit being stubborn and just call the police.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:29 PM on May 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I posted an answer detailing everything about how to proceed, including how to get the owner info and what exactly you should do with it ...

I got my hit and run driver of my parked car convicted 2 years ago against all odds, so there's that.

Me mail if you want more.

Sorry. I don't know where the previous answer went.

Do report this to the police and your insurance company, however, in the end, you will likely be recovering from THEIR insurance company.

Good news they have not yet gotten their damage fixed. Get an adjuster from your company and the police out there ASAP to inspect their car before it is too late.

Bonus points if your repair shop still has your damaged parts on hand. Call them, too.
posted by jbenben at 10:54 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I haven't been able to find out whether your purpose is an approved one for Washington state, but what you need to do to try to get access is to submit a vehicle record request (form) to DoL.

Alternatively, you could report the accident to the police - law enforcment has direct access to the data.

There are online vendors who claim to have access to the data for $20 or $30 but there's no guarantee their records are up-to-date or accurate.
posted by gingerest at 10:57 PM on May 22, 2014

To follow up on my previous and non-deleted answer....

I think you are making a common mistake in your thinking about this.

Your damage repairs ARE recoverable, but not easily or at all by personal contact.

Unless your state law is different from most (and it may be! check!) leaving an accident that does not include a bodily harm injury to a person is a misdemeanor. The police will take a report, but will not pursue it, so you will have to do the legwork and secure an indictment or conviction. The DA might not take the case, tho, so be advised.

Thing is, all that evidence is enough for an insurance case, and/or possibly small claims.

Make your insurance company and the Police follow up. After that, there are steps to take.

Hope this helped.
posted by jbenben at 11:53 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

While i can confirm the cops in washington(or at least seattle, and olympia, and...) won't really do anything and might even take many hours to show up to even take a report. That's worth doing, but here's what you want to do to accomplish what you want.

Get the plate and all that, and call your insurance company. Yes, i know, you only have liability. But THEIR insurance company is the one you need to be talking to. As i remember from situations like this, your insurance company will have the capability to look up their plate and figure out who they are, and what company they have(or whether they're uninsured).

If they are uninsured, the cops will suddenly care a lot more. If not, then your company puts you in contact with theirs.

Win win.

Really though, everyone saying "call the cops!" has never dealt with the cops in a situation like this in washington. Someone tboned my friends invincible van but no one was hurt, staring at the damage it looked like it probably totaled their car. The cops wouldn't even show up. After the fact damage that happened while you weren't even in your vehicle? they care even less. I've walked out of the house to half my bumper missing and they said they'd come by to take a report tomorrow.
posted by emptythought at 1:21 AM on May 23, 2014

On the offchance that the license plates are not for the car they're currently on, you might also want to take note of the car's VIN number.

Echoing those who say to let the insurance company and police do the work. My hit-and-run perpetrator also had a history of harassment charges, and they were both a buffer that effectively prevented him from harassing me.
posted by gnomeloaf at 3:52 AM on May 23, 2014

my question remains: how to identify the registered owner of this vehicle?

The point is your question is flawed and at odds with your intended result. You are opening yourself up to significant personal risk with a method that is somewhere between naively hopeful and potentially scamming/threatening (depending on how the car owner initially views it).

The person has no idea if you are the person who's car they hit.

They may not have been driving their own car when it hit yours - so they may not even know anything about the details.

They may have been drunk and not know they even hit a car. They may think they hit a wall. They may not even remember.

You are basically leaving a note on someone's car threatening them for money within a timeframe. You don't have the legal basis to do this.

It may not even be the same car. Lots of cars have damage, millions of them have missing hubcaps and a particular model has a particular hubcab (usually) so you just have a car that matches a nighttime description from someone to go on. That's it. You don't have a license plate number so you do not KNOW this is the same car (although you seem to have convinced yourself).

You have no proof that this was the same car, even if you think you do. At least, no proof that YOU can legally act on. There may be no proof that the police can even legally act on but if there is you have a chance of getting reimbursed.

The RIGHT ANSWER is to stop being pleased that you think you are just missing one little detail before you have this buttoned up and do the right thing by ALL parties (including yourself) and call the police. You have no legal basis for demanding money from someone and they are under no obligation to reimburse you for the damage other than in a legal sense, so use that legal sense to get your money back.
posted by Brockles at 4:59 AM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

1. Call the police with the license and VIN number of the car, have them come out and amend the report.

2. Get a copy of the amended report, it will now have the Owner's name, address, insurance carrier, and other information.

3. Call your insurance company and give them this information. Have them contact the insurance company of the other car's owner to suss out what covereages they have and to arrange for repair of your car.

4. If the other car isn't covered under insurance, you can sue them for damages.

There is no other way that's going to yield the result that you want. Contacting the other owner outside of your insurance and the law is crazypants when you pay taxes for police, and premiums for insurance.

Do this the right way so that you can recover your losses.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:20 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was in a very similar situation years ago when I was living in Waltham, MA. I went over to the police department with all my information, talked to a Captain on duty (I was also displeased with the service I had received from the officer I dealt with initially), gave him a copy of everything I had, and I got a phone call from the other driver's insurance company two days later.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:00 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

My next step would be to send a certified letter to the vehicle's registered owner.

No. Your next step is notifying the police and your insurance company.

The way it normally works is that your insurance company will go after theirs for the cost of your repairs--however, since you already repaired your car this might create problems. Either way, you need to contact the police and your insurance company.

Your insurance company has access to things like Lexis and DMV searches and can get this information, you don't need to pay for it.

I don't know laws in your state, but where I live it's illegal to drive an uninsured car. When my parked car was hit by an uninsured driver (who attempted to flee, but my neighbor called the police), my insurance company paid for the damages and sued the driver on my behalf (subrogation). I didn't have to do anything.
posted by inertia at 7:45 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hit and run is a crime in Washington state. I know the police take it seriously at least sometimes, because my brother had to testify in criminal court as a witness to a hit and run accident. Definitely also call your insurance company, but I would absolutely call the cops as well.
posted by KathrynT at 9:41 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hit and run is also a crime in Oregon. My boyfriend and I saw a car hit another car and drive off so we ran outside and got the vehicle information. We provided it to the car's owner. A little while later, my boyfriend received a subpoena to testify about it. So yeah, if you want to find the car's owner and get payment, contacting the cops is a good way to go about it. You never know, the car's owner may deny the whole thing which is a disadvantage without a criminal investigation..
posted by loquat at 4:31 PM on May 23, 2014

Just an update for anyone still following along: I've been issued a check for full reimbursement.

I left a letter on the car (with just an email address, no info on my full name or my exact address). I wrote that I knew that the driver of the car hit my car on that particular date and time, that there was a witness, that I had photos of the damage to both cars, and that I had the hubcap that they left at the scene.

I asked for reimbursement within three business days, and made it clear that I'd pursue them via police and my insurance company if they didn't resolve it with me before then.

On the last day I got an email from their insurer. I forwarded copies of the invoices for the damage as well as photos, and the insurer sent me a check.
posted by reeddavid at 11:07 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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