You're driving down a quiet street when suddenly you hear a loud thud. In a split second of panic, you realise you've hit something, but in the darkness, you can't quite tell what. Do you stop and check, or keep going? Hitting anything, whether animal or human, and leaving the scene is illegal. But staying also means facing potentially serious legal consequences. What to do after a hit and run?
This is the nightmare scenario of a hit-and-run accident. Your mind races as you try to figure out the right course of action, knowing that either way, this could end badly. But before you make a choice you'll regret, it's important to understand your options and the potential penalties involved. Here we'll walk through exactly what constitutes a hit and run, your legal obligations, possible criminal charges, and some defense strategies that could help you avoid jail time and keep your record clean, even if you make the wrong choice in the heat of the moment. The most important thing is to stay calm.
Let's take a deep breath and consider the situation rationally.
What Constitutes a Hit and Run?
A hit and run occurs when a driver hits another vehicle, object, or person and leaves the scene without stopping to identify themselves or render aid. Legally, what exactly constitutes a hit and run varies slightly by state, but typically includes:
• Failing to stop at the scene of an accident where any vehicle, personal property, or person has been hit or damaged.
• Not providing information such as name, address, registration and insurance information to the other parties involved.
• Not reporting the accident to the police within a reasonable period, which is usually defined as 24 to 48 hours after the accident occurred.
Some common excuses for leaving the scene include panic, fear of consequences, or not realizing any damage was done. However, none of these justifies committing a hit-and-run, which is considered a serious criminal offence.
Penalties for hit-and-run accidents typically include heavy fines, loss of driving privileges, and even jail time depending on the severity of the accident and injuries involved. The penalties increase substantially if the accident causes injury or death.
Some defence strategies for hit-and-run charges include:
1. Claiming you did not realize an accident occurred at the time. This is difficult to prove if there were injuries or major vehicle damage.
2. Arguing that you left the scene out of necessity, such as to call for emergency help or move your vehicle to a safe location. Again, you must report the incident to the police as soon as possible.
3. Negotiating a plea deal to get charges reduced or dropped. This depends on the details of the case and the willingness of the other parties and the judge to make a deal.
4. Providing evidence that another driver was actually at fault for the accident. Witness testimony, traffic cameras, and other evidence may be used to support this defence.
Thus, if you're involved in an accident, stop immediately, check on any injuries, and report the incident to the police and other driver(s) involved. Leaving the scene will only make the situation much worse.
Potential Criminal Charges for Hit and Run
If you leave the scene of an accident you caused, you could face serious criminal charges. As the driver, it's your legal obligation to stop, exchange information with the other parties involved, and report the accident to the police. Failure to do so is considered a hit-and-run.
Potential Criminal Charges
Depending on the severity of the accident and injuries, you may face misdemeanour or felony hit-and-run charges. Misdemeanours carry up to 1 year in jail and fines, while felonies can result in years of imprisonment and much higher penalties. The specific charges depend on your state's laws but may include:
• Leaving the scene of an accident: The most common charge for hit and run. Failing to stop and provide info after an accident.
• Duty to give information and render aid: Not assisting injured parties or calling for emergency help.
• Tampering with evidence: Trying to conceal that you were involved e.g. repairing damage to your vehicle.
• Reckless driving: Driving in a way that endangers people or property. Often charged alongside hit-and-run.
• Driving under the influence (DUI): If you were impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident. A DUI hit and run is an aggravated offence.
The penalties get more severe if there are any injuries or fatalities. You may also face civil lawsuits from the victims and higher insurance rates.
The best defence is not leaving the scene in the first place. However, if charged, potential strategies include:
• Claiming you didn't realize an accident occurred (e.g. you felt a bump but thought it was a pothole). This is hard to prove if there's significant damage or injury.
• Arguing that you left to get help or report the accident. Again, difficult to establish if you didn't actually call the police or ambulance.
• Challenging the evidence against you such as eyewitness testimony or security footage. But with advanced forensics, hit and run are often solved even without eyewitnesses.
• Negotiating a plea deal to get a lesser charge e.g. reckless driving instead of felony hit and run. You'll still face penalties but may avoid jail time.
• Presenting character witnesses to argue that the offence was out of character for you. But hit and run is considered such a serious violation of ethics that this typically does not weigh heavily in your favour.
The reality is, that leaving the scene of an accident you caused is illegal and unethical. The best way to avoid severe criminal charges is not to commit a hit-and-run in the first place. But if you do, turn yourself in immediately and get legal counsel.
Civil Liability in Hit and Run Cases
In a hit-and-run accident, the driver who flees the scene can face serious civil liability for damages caused. As the victim, you have the right to pursue compensation for losses through a civil lawsuit.
Civil lawsuits aim to recover the monetary costs resulting from the accident. This includes things like:
• Medical bills: Emergency care, hospital stays, rehabilitation, medication, etc.
• Lost wages: Income lost due to inability to work during recovery and treatment.
• Pain and suffering: Physical pain, emotional trauma, reduced quality of life. Difficult to quantify but can be sizeable. Property damage: Repair or replacement of your vehicle and any other property that was damaged.
To recover these damages, you will need to prove the at-fault driver's negligence caused your injuries and losses. While the driver may have evaded criminal charges by leaving the scene, their liability in a civil suit is not diminished. With the help of a personal injury attorney, you have a good chance of being compensated fairly.
Finding the Driver
The challenge in hit-and-run cases is identifying and locating the at-fault driver. Without them present at the scene, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible. However, there are a few options for tracking them down:
• Witnesses: Interview witnesses, and get contact details and accounts of the vehicle details.
• Surveillance footage: Check nearby security cameras, traffic cameras and dashcams that may have captured the vehicle, license plate number or driver.
• Damage clues: Look for parts of the vehicle left behind like a side mirror, hubcap or debris with a part number. Match to a specific make, model and year of the vehicle.
• Public records: Once you have details about the vehicle, you may be able to trace its registration to identify the owner and driver.
If the driver cannot be found, you may still be eligible for compensation through your own uninsured motorist coverage or a hit-and-run claims fund in some states. An attorney can help determine your options based on the specifics of your case and location.
While being the victim of a hit-and-run is a frightening experience, don't lose hope. With persistence, resources are available to identify the at-fault driver and hold them accountable for your damages. Seeking counsel from a personal injury lawyer is the best way to understand and pursue your rights to the maximum compensation you deserve.
Possible Defenses Against Hit and Run Charges
If you've been charged with a hit and run, there are a few possible defences your attorney may use to fight the charges.
Lack of Knowledge
If you genuinely did not know that an accident occurred, you may have a defence. For example, if your vehicle was damaged while parked and unattended, you would have no way of knowing you allegedly hit another car or object. Your attorney can argue that you failed to stop or report the incident because you lacked knowledge that it even transpired.
Failure to Stop Due to Fear
In some cases, a driver may fail to stop after an accident due to fear for their safety. If the area of the collision was dark, isolated or the other driver seemed threatening or under the influence, you may have been too afraid to stop. Your lawyer can contend that you intended to report the incident as soon as you reached a safe location and simply feared for your well-being at the scene.
If your vehicle suddenly malfunctioned or experienced a mechanical failure that caused the accident, you may not be liable for the hit-and-run. For example, if your brakes gave out or your accelerator stuck, you would not have been in control or able to stop after hitting another vehicle or object. Your attorney can argue that you are not at fault for the initial collision or for leaving the scene after, due to circumstances beyond your control.
Lack of Intent
In some cases, there may be a lack of intent to commit a hit-and-run. For example, if you were severely injured or knocked unconscious in the accident and physically could not stop or report it, you did not willfully leave the scene. Your lawyer may be able to prove that you lacked the necessary intent or mens rea to commit the crime of which you have been accused due to circumstances that rendered you unable.
Of course, the specific details of your case and events surrounding the incident will determine which defences may apply. Consulting with a criminal defence attorney is the best way to explore your legal options and develop an effective strategy against hit-and-run charges.
Steps to Take if You Are Involved in a Hit and Run
If you are involved in a hit-and-run accident, it's important to stay calm and take the right steps. Here are the actions you should take:
Call the Police
Report the accident to the police immediately. Provide the officer with details about the other vehicle, driver, location of the accident and extent of damage. Get a copy of the police report for future documentation and claims processing.
Get Information from Witnesses
Ask any witnesses for their names, phone numbers, and statements about what they saw. Write this information down as soon as possible so you have records of their accounts. Witness statements can help support your case, especially if the other driver cannot be located.
Take Photos of the Accident Scene
Use your phone to take pictures of the damage to your vehicle, the area where the collision occurred, and any evidence left behind by the other vehicle like paint marks or debris. Photographic evidence will substantiate your claims to the police and insurance provider.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Call your car insurance company to report the hit-and-run accident within 24 hours. Provide details of the incident including photos and information from witnesses and the police report. Your insurance company may be able to locate the other driver based on witness statements or evidence from the scene. They can also help you file an uninsured motorist claim to cover the costs of repairs if the other driver remains unidentified.
Seek Medical Attention if Necessary
Even if you feel fine after the accident, it's a good idea to get checked out by a doctor. Some injuries from car accidents may not appear until hours or days later. A medical report can also help support insurance claims related to the hit and run.
Following these steps will ensure you take the necessary actions after a hit-and-run accident. By collecting as much information and evidence as possible, contacting the authorities and your insurance provider quickly, and seeking medical care if needed, you can establish your case and work towards recovering damages from the accident.
So there you have it. If you're involved in a hit-and-run, you could be facing serious legal trouble. The penalties for fleeing the scene are no joke. But don't panic just yet - there are defences you can raise and strategies to minimize the damage. The most important thing is to get help right away from an experienced attorney. They can review the details of your case, determine the best defence, and fight for your rights in court. And remember, coming clean and doing the right thing by reporting the incident to the police right away is always the best approach.
Stay safe out there and be careful on the road!