Getting into a vehicle accident can spur a number of basic human instincts. If we feel we have done something wrong, our first impulse could be to flee the scene as quickly as possible. It should then come as no surprise, in that sense, that fleeing the scene of a car accident can result in very serious ramifications down the road.
What is Hit and Run?
A hit and run is defined as “a driver being involved in a car accident, either with a pedestrian, another car, or a fixed object, and leaving the scene without stopping to identify themselves or provide or call for aid to anyone who might need assistance.” Several states also include collisions with an animal in the definition of “hit and run.”
In most states, it is insignificant if the driver was at fault of the accident or not. The act is committed simply by leaving the scene. However, if the driver must leave the scene of an accident to access emergency assistance, such as going to a nearby payphone to call for help, it may not be considered a hit and run as long as the driver returns immediately to the accident scene.
Most states do not require that the hit and run occur on a highway or public road. Many states extend hit and run laws to cover parking lot collisions as well. For example, if a driver backs into an unoccupied car in a parking lot and fail to leave a note with their contact information on the windshield, it may be considered as a hit and run.
Criminal Penalties for Leaving the Scene of a Car Accident
The criminal penalties imposed for a hit and run vary from state to state. Many states classify the criminal penalties for a hit and run as either felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the circumstances. Felony hit and run is defined by most states as leaving the scene of an accident where there is any type of injury to a person, whether the injured person is a pedestrian or an occupant of a vehicle.
The penalties for felony hit and run can be quite severe. Most states impose fines of between $5,000 and $20,000. There is also the potential for incarceration as punishment for a felony hit and run depending on the nature of the accident and the injuries that resulted. In some states, a felony hit and run is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
However, a hit and run can be classified as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. While the term “misdemeanor” sounds relatively minor to some people, especially compared to “felony,” misdemeanors can punishable by a significant fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to one year in jail.
Administrative Penalties for Leaving the Scene of a Car Accident
In addition to the criminal penalties for hit and run, nearly every state imposes administrative penalties related to your driver’s license. These penalties are often imposed through the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
A conviction for hit and run, regardless of whether a felony or misdemeanor, typically results in an automatic suspension or revocation of a driver’s license for a period of at least six months. In some states, the revocation period can be as long as three years. Depending on the state in which you live, and the nature and circumstances of hit and run in which you were involved, the penalty may include a lifetime revocation of your driver’s license. These administrative penalties are in addition to any criminal punishment that might be imposed for the hit and run conviction.
Civil Penalties for Hit and Run
If you are at fault for the accident, it is possible that another person involved in the crash may sue you in court for the any damages they may have suffered. Such a lawsuit may ask for monetary compensation for medical bills, lost wages, property damage, emotional distress, and more.
However, this type of lawsuit is likely to happen even if you did not commit a hit and run. If you are liable for hit and run in addition to being at fault for causing the accident, the damages that a court orders you to pay will almost surely be increased. Many states will impose “treble damages” on you. Treble damages refer to any damages awarded to the plaintiff being automatically tripled, mainly to punish the defendant’s bad behavior.
For example, if the jury in a civil suit awards the plaintiff $10,000 in damages, the judge will automatically triple that amount to $30,000 since the hit and run amounts to particularly reckless and egregious conduct. In most instances, treble damages of that nature are not covered by your car insurance policy. In other words, you will be required to pay the amount out of your own pocket.
Your Insurance Company
In addition to the potential penalties already discussed, many insurance companies have a practice of significantly increasing premiums or cancelling automobile insurance policies if the driver is convicted of a hit and run.