Louisiana’s uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) law is contained in La. R.S. 22:1295. UM coverage can be utilized to pay damages when a person is injured in a car accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver. But what happens when the offending driver flees the scene after the accident? In such a case, the fleeing vehicle is referred to as the “phantom vehicle.”
“[T]o recover property damages under an uninsured motorist policy, a plaintiff involved in an accident with a phantom vehicle must either prove that there was contact between the insured vehicle and the phantom vehicle, or must produce an independent, disinterested witness to corroborate the plaintiff’s allegation of a miss and run accident. See La. R.S. 22:1295(1)(d)(i); Rener v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 99-1703 (La. App. 3 Cir. 4/5/00), 759 So. 2d 214, 217. Likewise, to recover for personal injury caused by an accident with a phantom, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving, through an independent and disinterested witness, that a phantom caused the accident. La. R.S. 22:12:95(1)(f).” Payton v. Progressive, 2010-CA-1644 (La. App. 4 Cir. 5/25/11) 66 So. 3d 1194, 1198.
Thus, if there was no contact between the “phantom vehicle” and the victim’s vehicle, the victim must produce an uninterested witness to corroborate that the accident was caused as the result of the phantom vehicle’s negligence. But the statute does not state the “independent, disinterested witness” must actually witness the accident. The statute also does not define what an “independent, disinterested witness” is.
Accordingly, an argument can be made that a witness does not have to see the accident occur but can come to or near the accident scene shortly thereafter and merely confirm that the phantom vehicle was near the scene or fled the scene. Additionally, an argument can also be made that an “independent, disinterested witness” can be a passenger in the insured’s vehicle that does not make a personal injury claim as the result of the accident. In such a case, the passenger does not have any stake in the outcome of the UM claim made by the driver of the vehicle because the passenger is not asserting a claim of his or her own.
If you or a loved one is involved in an accident caused by a “phantom vehicle,” contact Donald D’Aunoy Jr., who is a Metairie personal injury lawyer. Although his office is located in Metairie, he serves the entire southeast Louisiana region. He makes FREE house calls to his clients outside of Metairie, and his consultations are FREE. Call 504-508-6414.