Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime in all states in the United States. Often called a “hit and run,” an individual may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the extent of the damage, any injuries that were incurred as a result of the accident, and the particular state laws. It is expected that drivers involved in an accident stay at the scene in order to assist anyone that has been injured and supply personal and insurance information. This information may be helpful in assisting injured victims, as well as determining who is liable for costs associated with the accident.
If an accident only involves one driver and property, such as a parked vehicle, the driver is expected to make an attempt to notify the property owner of the accident and leave pertinent information. In the case of hitting a parked vehicle, the driver’s contact information can be left on the windshield of the car. In the case of other types of property, the driver must make an attempt to find and inform the owner or leave a note if it is possible. If a driver flees without making this attempt to inform the property owner, the driver is considered to have left the scene of the accident and may face criminal charges.
Accident with Non-Driver Injuries
If a driver injures non-drivers, the driver is still expected to stay at the scene and assist with injuries. Although pets are considered property as opposed to people, charges may be more severe if a pet that is injured in an accident dies. Charges may be lessened if a driver attempts to assist an injured pet. Leaving the scene of an accident with injuries may result in more severe charges than an accident with no injuries.
Hit and Run Charges
In several states, leaving the scene of an accident is a felony regardless of the damage or injuries. In most states, leaving the scene of an accident can warrant different charges, and may be considered either a felony or a misdemeanor. If a person dies as a result of an accident, and the driver that caused the accident flees, it is a felony in all states.
Hit and Run Penalties
Leaving the scene of an accident is typically penalized with high fines, and restitution for damaged property and medical expenses may be levied as well. Depending on the scenario and whether the driver has a previous criminal record, the driver may also be sentenced to jail or prison time. In many cases, the driver will be required to attend traffic school and may lose the license to drive for an amount of time that is determined by the judge. If the driver faces felony charges, the loss of rights associated with felony charges will also apply.
Leaving Accident Scene Defenses
If the driver sustains injuries which inhibit the driver’s ability to provide assistance or information, the driver may be excluded from the obligation to stay at the scene. To prove that injury or incapacitation was the reason for leaving the scene of the accident, the driver may have to provide proof that medical assistance was sought following the accident. A driver may also be excluded from the duty to stay at the scene if the driver fears death or injury. This may apply if fire or toxic materials threaten the well being of the driver.
Unaware of Damage
If a driver is unaware that an accident has occurred, or that damage or injury has resulted from an accident, charges for leaving the scene of the accident may be dismissed. This is common in cases where the driver backed into a vehicle and did not feel the impact. The driver may still be liable for any inflicted damage or injuries, however. A criminal defense lawyer may provide valuable assistance in upholding the defense that the driver was unaware of the damage or accident and thus did not intentionally leave the scene.
“Florida DMV Online Guide.” Car Accidents Florida. DMVFlorida, 27 May 2014. Web. 27 May 2014. <http://www.dmvflorida.org/car-accident.shtml>
“Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine.” Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine. The Florida Legislature, 27 May 2014. Web. 27 May 2014. <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0300-0399/0316/Sections/0316.027.html>