Criminal and Civil Liability in Hit and Run Cases
Hit & Run accidents are often portrayed in a wildly dramatic way on TV or in the movies. Someone is driving recklessly and rams into another vehicle or drives onto a sidewalk causing property damage before accelerating off into the distance. But the reality is a hit and run can be any accident where there is property damage or injury and you leave the scene before exchanging information with others involved and contacting law enforcement. In other words, a hit and run charge involves your duty to report. In any accident, you must exchange driver’s license, address, and registration information with other drivers involved and when serious, report the accident to law enforcement. If you are criminally charged with Hit and Run, you should immediately consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
In minor accidents the priority is to move the cars out of the way so as to not obstruct traffic and then exchange information with the other driver. In more serious accidents, as in, you cannot just drive away, you must also wait for law enforcement to arrive on the scene.
If you or the other driver(s) involved, or any of the passengers are injured then in addition to your duty to exchange information and report you also have a duty to assist. This means offering reasonable assistance, contacting help, like the police or an ambulance, and remaining on the scene until injured parties are safely transported and you are given approval to leave.
Unattended Vehicles or Property
If you strike an unattended vehicle then you must make an effort to find the driver. Failing actual contact with the driver then you must leave your personal information for them someplace where they can find it and you must also report the accident to the police if the damage is substantial. If you hit and damage highway property, like signals or signs, then you have to report your accident to the highway or road authority. That information is usually available on the sign.
Criminal and Civil Liability
In cases where there is injury or death you may face criminal penalties. An accident that results in injury is usually considered a class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense; if the injury is considered serious this may become a class 4 felony offense; if the accident resulted in death then there may be a class 3 felony charge. Felony charges mean that you are facing potential jail time so it is vital to seek good representation in such matters.
Fleeing a scene also has civil consequences. Because the act of leaving without performing your duty to assist and report is a crime, this also opens you up to responsibility for civil damages. Leaving is also an intentional act and this could in effect increase the punitive damages you face. Sometimes claims are handled through insurance alone, but it is important to understand how a hit and run makes you liable for civil damages too. As with criminal charges, if you find yourself facing liability for a hit and run accident, contact a civil attorney.
Thanks to our friends from Hebets & McCallin for their blog contribution and insight into criminal and civil liability in hit and run cases.