When a motor vehicle accident occurs, state traffic laws require drivers involved to follow certain procedures immediately after the incident. In general, those involved in an accident must stay at the scene after it occurs, get medical help for anyone in need, and wait for the police to arrive.
When a driver fails to follow these procedures, they can be charged with leaving the scene of an accident, or a hit and run.
Leaving the scene of an accident is more serious than an infraction-level traffic offense. Hit-and-run drivers can face significant consequences, depending on the circumstances of the accident.
In most states, the specific protocols that must be followed depend on a few factors. These include whether the accident:
- Caused damage to property only, like hitting a parked vehicle
- Caused injuries to others, such as another driver, passenger, or pedestrian
- Resulted in a person's death, such as another driver, passenger, or pedestrian
What To Do Immediately After an Accident
Do not leave the accident scene. This can lead to serious criminal charges. In most places, state traffic laws require any driver involved in an auto accident to stop their vehicle as soon as it is safe and follow these steps:
- Check on all drivers and passengers, provide basic first aid, and call for emergency medical help if needed
- Call the authorities - police officers will create a record, ensure evidence is preserved, and all proper procedures are followed
- Exchange information, such as driver's licenses, proof of insurance, and contact information
- Identify and talk to witnesses who can verify the facts of the incident
- Contact the insurance companies for yourself and the other driver, if applicable
Following these steps will ensure you are adhering to the law and safeguarding yourself from a hit-and-run charge. It may also help you if it comes time to file a personal injury claim or defend against one.
Collisions With Unattended Vehicles
If you collide with an unoccupied vehicle or some other stationary property, like a mailbox or fence, most states mandate you make a reasonable effort to identify the property owner and alert them. This could include the following actions:
- If a parked car, taking down the damaged vehicle's license number
- Attempting to locate the vehicle owner, if applicable
- If there is other property damage, leaving a written notice at the scene with your contact information, vehicle registration number, and insurance information
For example, if you hit an unattended vehicle in a parking lot, you must leave a note. This is true even if there is only minor damage, or if you aren't certain that vehicle damage occurred as a result of the collision.
You should also take down a detailed record of the incident. This includes photos of the damage and the note you left. Carefully assess both vehicles and take note of the visible damage. This can help protect you later, should the vehicle owner attempt to attribute damage you were not responsible for to their insurance claim.
What To Do After an Injury Accident
After an accident involving injuries, drivers typically have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to help any injured person and to report the accident to law enforcement. Avoid moving an immobile injured person, unless there is an immediate threat, such as a fire. This can aggravate or create a new injury.
If the accident involves serious bodily injury, your actions are even more critical. Like non-injury accidents, you must call 911, render aid if possible, and wait for law enforcement.
Potential Penalties and Felony Hit and Runs
Failure to fulfill your legal duties after an accident can result, at a minimum, in a traffic ticket. Some minor instances charged as misdemeanors can sometimes be pleaded down to infractions, depending on the circumstances. However, an accident resulting in significant bodily harm, serious injuries, or death, is subject to a felony hit-and-run charge. This is a serious criminal offense.
There are severe legal implications and penalties for a hit-and-run offense. Depending on the circumstances and your state, penalties can include:
- Lofty fines
- Driver's license suspension or revocation
- Jail time
The most serious hit-and-run charges carry penalties of up to $25,000 in fines and five years of imprisonment.
At the scene of an accident, law enforcement will conduct a thorough investigation. This involves talking to witnesses, reviewing surveillance, and more. A warrant will be issued for your arrest if you are identified as leaving the scene. This means officers may actively search for you and arrest you at your home, job, or other location.
Auto Insurance Implications
Hit and runs can impact car insurance rates for both victims and offenders.
Insurance companies typically view hit-and-run incidents as an indicator of higher risk, often resulting in a premium increase. While it depends on the severity of the charge and resulting conviction, these incidents can even lead to policy cancellation. Avoid complications with your insurance and potential legal issues by always following the required procedures after an accident, even a minor one.
Incidents where the at-fault driver cannot be identified can necessitate using your own insurance coverage. This means that even as the victim of a hit and run, you will likely have to use your insurance to cover repairs. Although it depends on your specific coverage, you will likely have to pay your deductible. Any type of claim, even when you're not at fault, can lead to an increase in your premiums.
Report any hit-and-run incidents to the police and your insurance company immediately, even if there is only minor damage.
Defenses and Legal Rights
In addition to criminal consequences, hit-and-run accidents can also carry civil implications.
These types of offenses often involve civil liabilities, meaning you could be responsible for compensation for damages to the injured party, including medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and lost wages.
If you are charged with fleeing the scene of an accident, it is important to understand potential defenses or legal strategies. You will want to protect yourself both in criminal and civil court. Examples of defenses include:
- There is not enough information to properly identify the driver who fled the hit-and-run accident
- The driver was unable to stay at the scene and provide reasonable assistance due to their own safety
- Lack of knowledge, such as that the driver didn't realize a collision had occurred
A hit-and-run offense can come with serious consequences. A criminal defense attorney is crucial for defending your legal rights and protecting your interests.
Need Legal Help With a Hit-and-Run Charge? Talk to an Attorney
A hit and run is more than just a minor traffic violation. It is often charged as a criminal offense, and you will want an effective defense in court. Each case is different, and you may have a legitimate reason for leaving the scene after a car accident. If you've been involved in an accident, contacting a traffic or criminal defense lawyer for legal advice will help protect your interests.