CHICAGO (WLS) — Data show that 40% of all pedestrians struck last year in Chicago were victims of hit-and-run crashes.
The ABC7 I-Team talked to one victim who said her court battle is an insurance claim wake-up call, for both walkers and bike riders.
One local woman thought her auto insurance would cover her when she was struck by a hit and run driver. When that didn’t happen, she brought her battle to court.
“I was frightened, scared because, you know, I didn’t even know where I was. I was asking for my family. And you know, that’s when I found out that I got hit,” said Carmen Galarza.
Galarza thought her life was over when she was struck down in the Belmont Gardens neighborhood store parking lot in 2018 by a hit-and-run driver.
“It’s been bad. We were scared, we thought we were going to lose her because the gentlemen who hit her got out of his car, looked at her on the ground and got back in his car and drove off,” said Galarza’s daughter Holly Garcia.
Because the driver was never caught, Galarza filed a claim with her own auto insurer, Direct Auto Insurance Company, to pay out under its policy for uninsured motorist coverage.
“I was in a lot of pain and there was months where I could barely walk,” Galarza said.
She said her insurance policy coverage of $25,000 would help pay medical bills not covered by medical insurance. She said there was also the loss of a job opportunity and long-term injuries.
“I still have pain up and down my leg, all the way up my thigh, as far as, to say, my arm and I get a lot of headaches and not to mention, you know, I am not as bright as I used to with my memory since I had that accident,” she said.
“The policy in Illinois is that if you own an insurance policy, you get coverage. And so if you’re struck in a car by somebody who doesn’t have insurance, or who doesn’t have enough insurance, you could use your policy,” explained Howard Ankin, attorney at Ankin Law.
But in court, Direct Auto Insurance Company said in order to file a claim for a payout under uninsured motorist coverage, the customer must have been inside an automobile at the time of the hit-and-run.
Galarza’s attorney, Howard Ankin has been fighting the case in two different Illinois courts. He argues Direct Auto Insurance Company’s policy is not in line with” Illinois public policy as established in the Illinois constitution.”
“The judge agreed with us and the Illinois appellate court seemingly also agreed with us, but through another consolidated case,” Ankin said.
Even still, Ankin said his client has not yet received a settlement as the insurance company is trying to appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court.
The insurance company’s lawyer said that it’s, “not appropriate for us to comment until the case is concluded.”
The ABC7 Data Team found that throughout 2022 in Chicago, 2,468 pedestrians were struck by cars, an increase of 9% from the year before. At least 40% were hit-and-run crashes.
“It’s important for people to know that this uninsured motorist provision or their policy protects people when they’re struck by a car,” Ankin said.
If you are hit by a driver who doesn’t have insurance or runs off, like in Galarza’s case, you should file a claim with your own insurer. If you don’t own a car and don’t have auto insurance, you may want to look into buying a non-owner car insurance policy.
“They should step up to the plate and help me out but I guess they’re not willing to cooperate. They don’t want to pay,” Galarza said.
Galarza’s attorney said if the insurance company appeal does not go forward, the next step would be an arbitration hearing to determine her claim payment.
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Clinton Mora is a reporter for Trending Insurance News. He has previously worked for the Forbes. As a contributor to Trending Insurance News, Clinton covers emerging a wide range of property and casualty insurance related stories.