Leaving the Scene of an Accident

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Do I Have to Remain at the Scene after an Accident?

In every state, there are laws making it a crime for someone involved in a car accident to flee the scene. This is commonly known as a “hit and run” accident. The purpose of these laws is to:

What If Property Is Damaged?

If the accident damages property, such as parked vehicles, lampposts, or trees, the driver should make every reasonable attempt to identify themselves and to give the necessary information to the property owner. Typically, leaving a written note with the driver’s information on the damaged property is fine.

What Happens If a Non-Driver Is Injured?

Part of being a responsible driver means having a legal duty to render assistance in the event of an accident. This applies to anyone who has been injured, regardless of whether they were drivers or not. This includes pedestrians and passengers. A driver must stay the scene of the accident until law enforcement arrives.

What Happens If a Pet Is Injured?

If a pet has been injured, the obligation to render assistance should still be followed. Even though pets are considered property and not people, drivers are still obligated to exchange information when property is damaged. From a legal standpoint, pets are usually considered “property.” So, if a pet dies, the owner has lost “property,” resulting in increased liability. Thus, it would be in a driver’s best interest to assist an injured pet.

What Are the Punishments for Leaving the Scene of an Accident?

It depends on the state. Below is a general breakdown.

  1. Accident with No Injuries: In most states, leaving the scene of an accident that only resulted in property damage without injuries is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors can usually be punished by a fairly large fine - around $1,000 - and up to a year in jail.
  2. Accident with Injuries: There are usually more severe penalties to leave the scene of an accident that resulted in personal injury. In a few states, it is a felony to leave the scene of an accident. This does not necessarily entail a larger fine, or more prison time, but having a felony on one’s criminal record is far more serious than a misdemeanor and carries long lasting consequences.
  3. Accident Resulting in Death: It is a felony in every state to leave the scene of an accident if the accident resulted in a person’s death.

Exceptions to Leaving the Scene of an Accident Charges

There are a few exceptions, although they apply mostly to irregular situations.

  1. Drivers Only: The first set of exceptions is that this law only applies to drivers in accidents. Witnesses and passengers are free to leave the scene if they want to without fear of legal punishment.
  2. Incapacity: The law doesn’t apply if the driver is somehow incapacitated. An injury or disability, which prevents the driver from rendering assistance or exchanging information, also prevents the driver from being liable for their inability to give assistance.
  3. Lack of Knowledge of Danger: Certain circumstances may prevent the driver from being able to discharge their duty to render assistance to others involved in the accident. A driver who doesn’t know about injury or property damage is typically exempt from liability. Additionally, if the driver believes that their life would be in danger by remaining at the accident, such as in the event of a fire or toxic spill, the court may also grant an exemption.

Seeking Legal Help

Leaving the scene of an accident before providing identification, insurance information and assistance to the injured can result in serious criminal charges. Additionally, the injured may pursue legal remedies in a civil court. If you are accused of leaving the scene of an accident, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.

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Last Modified: 05-29-2014 04:37 PM PDT

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