February 19, 2018

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The Legal Consequences of a “Hit and Run” Accident

Hit and run accidents are distressingly common occurrences. In 2015, over 90,000 hit and run crashes occurred in the state of Florida alone. Leaving the scene of an accident carries a variety of potentially serious consequences for both the victim and the hit and run driver.

Administrative Consequences

A state government may suspend or revoke your driver’s license for hit and run. In some states, your driver’s license will not be suspended for a hit and run accident in which you collided with an unattended vehicle (a parking lot accident in which you failed to leave a note, for example). In cases where you are liable for loss of your driving privileges, the circumstances of the accident will generally determine how long your license will be suspended – whether the accident was your fault, whether there were injuries or property damage, etc. Suspension periods can range from a few months to a lifetime driving ban.

Civil Consequences

Obviously, if an accident was your fault you can be sued for damages. Intuitively it would seem that most hit-and-run drivers caused the accident that they fled from, or at least believe that they caused it; otherwise there would be no temptation to flee. Nevertheless, you cannot be held liable for an accident that was not your fault simply because you left the scene of the accident.

If the accident was your fault, however, you might find yourself being held liable for punitive damages in addition to the normal compensatory damages. In some states, the award of triple damages is not uncommon – if you caused $50,000 in damages, for example, you could be held liable for $150,000 dollars.

Insurance Coverage

Many uninsured motorist policies (and certain other types of voluntary insurance policies) will cover hit and run accidents in cases where the offending driver was never apprehended. In a handful of states including California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois and Ohio, however, even uninsured motorist insurance cannot be used to cover a hit and run accident. Furthermore, since most states do not require drivers to carry uninsured motorist insurance, millions of drivers do not carry such insurance or any other type of insurance that will cover hit and run accidents.

In the dozen or so “no fault” auto insurance states, mandatory Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policies generally do cover hit and run accidents. Furthermore, some fault-based auto insurance states provide funding for victims in these situations (the California Victim Compensation program, for example).

Criminal Consequences

You can be charged with hit and run even if the accident was not your fault – simply leaving the scene is enough to constitute a criminal offense. Fortunately, leaving the scene of an accident long enough to park your vehicle in a safe place is generally not illegal, as long as you return to the scene of the accident as soon as possible.

The penalties for hit and run varies by state and by the circumstances surrounding the accident. Hit and run can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the accident—whether or not the accident was your fault, for example, and whether or not someone was hurt or killed in the accident. In some states, leaving the scene of an injury accident can result in massive fines and several years in prison.