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Leaving the Scene of an Accident: What Can Happen?

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

What happens if you leave the scene of an accident? Unfortunately, car accidents happen every day and can happen to any of us. It's only natural to instinctively want to flee whenever you're in a daunting, chaotic situation.

But after a car crash, following that instinct can lead to some potentially dire consequences.

If you do leave the scene of an accident, here are a few things that may happen to you:

Misdemeanor Hit-and-Run

In most states, it's a misdemeanor hit-and-run if one leaves the scene of an accident that only results in property damage -- in other words, if no one was injured in the accident. A misdemeanor is usually coupled with large fines of about $1,000, and possible jail time of up to a year.

Felony Hit-and-Run

If the accident involves injuries to others -- whether it be the other driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian -- the punishment can be far more severe. This would be considered a felony hit-and-run. Felony hit-and-run penalties vary by state, but they will likely involve incarceration and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

It is a felony in all states if one leaves the scene of an accident that results in the death of a person.

Keep in mind, both these misdemeanor and felony hit-and-run charges are as severe as they are because of the "hit-and-run" (fleeing) aspect.

Warrant for Your Arrest

At the scene of an accident, the police will likely conduct an in-depth investigation. This involves interviewing witnesses, reviewing any available surveillance, and more. If they determine that you were involved and have fled the scene, there will likely be a warrant out for your arrest, and it is very likely that they will immediately proceed to locate you.

No Consequences

There are a few situations, however, in which one is free to leave the scene of an accident without suffering any consequences. For example, hit-and-run laws don't apply to those who weren't directly involved in the accident. In other words, witnesses, passengers, and any other passers-by will not be held liable and, while their participation would be appreciated, they can generally leave the scene of a crash without fear of any penalty.

In short, if you are involved in a car accident and you want to leave: don't.

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