Leaving the Scene of an Accident

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Why Do I Have To Remain At The Scene After An Accident?

In all U.S. states, it is a crime for someone involved in a car accident to flee the scene. This is also known as a “hit and run” accident.  The purpose of these laws is to compel those involved to render any necessary assistance to those who might be injured, and to provide proper identification and insurance information, preventing them from escaping any criminal or civil liability which might arise from the accident.

What Happens If The Accident Is A Non-Injury Accident Involving A Property?

If the accident involves an automobile damaging property, including parked vehicles, lampposts, or trees, the driver should make every reasonable attempt to identify himself and to give the information to the property owner. Leaving a written note with the driver’s information for the damaged property is a typical response to damaging a stationary property.

What Happens If a Non-Driver Has Been Injured?

The duty of a driver to render assistance in the event of an accident is to all persons injured, regardless of whether the persons were drivers or not. This includes pedestrians and passengers.

If a pet has been injured, the obligation to render assistance should still be followed. Even though pets are considered property and not persons, drivers are still obligated to exchange information when property is damaged. If a pet dies, the “property” will be lost to the pet owner, resulting in greater 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?

In most states, leaving the scene of an accident which only resulted in property damage (no injuries) is a misdemeanor, meaning it can usually be punished by a fairly large fine (around $1,000) and/or a year or less in jail. It is usually a more severe crime to leave the scene of an accident which resulted in personal injury, as well as property damage. It is a felony in all states to leave the scene of an accident if the accident resulted in a person’s death.

In 3 states, it is a felony to leave the scene of an accident. These states are Utah, Kentucky, and Montana. 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.

Are there Any Exceptions To Leaving the Scene of An Accident Charges?

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

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.

Next, 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 would prevent the driver from being liable for inability to give assistance. Generally, the driver would also have to be injured for this exception to apply.

Finally, certain circumstances may prevent the driver from being able to discharge his duty. A driver who doesn’t know about injury or property damage is typically exempt from liability. If the driver believes that his or her 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.

What Should I Do If I Am Accused of Leaving The Scene of An Accident?

Leaving the scene of an accident before providing identification, insurance information and/or assistance to the injured can result in serious criminal charges. In addition, the injured can seek damages in a civil court. If you are accused of leaving the scene of an accident, you should contact a criminal defense attorney.

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Last Modified: 12-07-2012 11:10 AM PST

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