Fleeing the scene after an accident is a common yet unfortunate reaction to many car accidents. Whether it is panic or fear the instinct to get away from the scene of the incident can be an extremely strong one, but it is one to be avoided at all costs. Being aware of the consequences of a hit and run is vital knowledge to have as being unaware of the penalties does not stop you from suffering from serious legal trouble in the future.
Definition of a Hit and Run
A hit and run accident is one where a vehicle hits property, a pedestrian, or another vehicle (and in some states this even includes any animal) and abandons the scene of the accident before any of the parties involved could exchange information or any police reports could be taken. This also applies to anyone who leaves the scene before giving assistance to anyone who needs help. Whether or not you are responsible for the accident does not matter, the simple fact that you left the scene before any of the above could occur means that you have committed a hit and run.
Certain circumstances like leaving the scene in order to get immediate medical attention might not fall under this, especially if the person returns to the scene as soon as it is possible for them to do so. It is also important to note that a hit and run does not have to occur on a highway or road, for when a person hits another car in a parking lot and leaves without leaving behind any of their information this could also be categorized as a hit and run.
Committing a Hit and Run – Criminal Penalties
While the laws can differ from state to state most hit and runs are considered to be either misdemeanors or felonies. Felonies are the more serious crime and are characterized by most states as a hit and run where the person leaves the scene after another individual has been injured whether they were in a vehicle or walking on the road. Felonies can be a penalty from anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the specific circumstances and the state in which the accident occurred. In more severe cases it is possible that the person accused of fleeing the scene of an accident can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
While not considered quite as harsh as a felony a misdemeanor hit and run is nothing to be taken lightly. While the fines and sentencing aren’t as punishing you could still pay a hefty fine of up to $5,000 and spend up to a year in jail for your crimes.
If it can be proven that your negligence was the cause of the accident to the other person or persons involved they may try to sue you for any injuries or damages that they have suffered. This is an outcome that may have occurred even if you did not flee the scene of the accident afterwards. However, since you did commit a hit and run the penalty that you pay may be as much as three times what it would have been otherwise in what is known as “treble” damages. The judge can automatically triple the amount that has been awarded to the plaintiff if they find your behavior egregious, and not only that the extra amount that is awarded will almost definitely not be something that your insurance company covers and you will have to pay it out of pocket yourself.
Besides any criminal or civil penalties that you can be liable for there are also administrative penalties that you almost certainly will be obligated to pay as well. These include any and all fees from the local Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as the immediate suspension of your driver’s license from anywhere from 6 months to 3 years depending on the state in which the hit and run occurred and the severity of the accident. Some cases are so extreme that they could even lead to a permanent loss of your license.
In addition to all of the different types of penalties you can receive it is also very possible that your insurance company will automatically terminate your insurance with them as a consequence of being found guilty of a hit and run. This is another unfortunate consequence of committing such an act, and yet another reason why it is always better to stay at the scene of the incident.
A hit and run is an extremely serious matter, but if you find yourself in this daunting situation you will need an experienced lawyer you can trust. Contact the Paris Law Firm at 909-325-6185 or via our online contact form to schedule an initial case evaluation.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney/client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.