Also known as “hit and run,” leaving the scene of an accident is a crime. You can be charged with leaving the scene if you hit another vehicle, pedestrian, object, or piece of property and then drive away.
Only the driver of the vehicle can be charged with leaving the scene of an accident. However, in some states, a passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident where the driver left the scene can face consequences if they fail to report the accident within the required amount of time. For example, in Virginia a passenger has 24 hours to report the accident or face criminal charges.
There are some circumstances where it is okay to leave the scene. For example, you might need to leave the immediate scene because staying would be dangerous, such as when there is a risk of fire or an explosion. It might also be necessary to leave so that you can get help or contact emergency services.
Bystanders or witnesses to the accident are not required by law to remain at the scene. While you may stay to call for help or to provide first aid, you are also free to leave.
What is the Difference Between Misdemeanor and Felony Hit and Run?
Leaving the scene of an accident can be a felony or a misdemeanor. Generally a hit and run is a felony whenever there has been an injury to a person. That person might be a pedestrian or an occupant in the other vehicle. Depending on the state where the hit and run occurred, it might also be a felony if there was more than $1,000 worth of property damage.
A hit and run is a misdemeanor when there is only minor property damage, such as damage to the other vehicle. This is common in parking lots. If you hit a car in a parking lot and cause damage, you can be charged with a misdemeanor if you leave the scene and do not leave your information for the owner of the other vehicle.
If the driver was committing another crime at the time of the accident, they can be charged for both offenses. For example, a driver who was drunk and then left the scene of the accident can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and hit and run. Both charges carry their own separate penalties.
A driver who was driving under the influence or speeding and leaves the scene may also face additional charges. These may include reckless driving or vehicular homicide if the victim of the hit and run does not survive. Factors such as speeding or drunk driving may lead to harsher punishments because the judge can use them as aggravating factors when deciding on the appropriate sentence.
What are the Legal Consequences for a Hit and Run?
The consequences for a hit and run depend on whether the crime is a felony or a misdemeanor. The exact punishments vary from state to state. In most states the punishment for misdemeanor hit and run is a fine, however it may include up to one year in jail.
The consequences for felony hit and run are more severe. The punishment will likely include both a significant fine and jail time. A hit and run that results in the death of the victim can carry its own penalty of up to ten years in jail in some states.
In most states leaving the scene of an accident, whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony, will also result in the driver losing their license for a period of time. The suspension or revocation may be anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on the laws of the state where the accident occurred.
In addition to the legal consequences, if you are found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident it is also very likely that your insurance company will increase your automobile insurance rates. Losing your license will also impact your ability to find or keep employment that requires driving.
Can You Be Sued for a Hit and Run?
Anytime you are involved in a vehicle accident there is a possibility that you will be sued by the other driver or property owner for damages. If you leave the scene of the accident the civil penalties could be more severe as well.
The victim may ask for damages to compensate them for medical bills, property damage, and lost wages. If the defendant left the scene of the accident the victim is more likely to also recover punitive damages. These are damages that are meant to punish the defendant. Even if the damage inflicted on the victim or their property was an accident, the driver left the scene intentionally. The court will punish the defendant by imposing punitive damages.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Committed a Hit and Run?
If you are charged with hit and run you should contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your options and possible defenses.The consequences for hit and run can be severe and long term. An experienced attorney can help you understand the potential penalties for leaving the scene of an accident and represent you in court.