Your mind is likely to be flying in all sorts of directions in the aftermath of a car crash. Whether you were the negligent party or unsuspecting victim, you may be tempted to flee the scene, but you must reject this idea. In fact, no matter your part in the crash, fleeing the scene of a car accident can make matters substantially worse for everyone involved. The decision to prematurely leave the scene of a car crash is wrought with potential legal and financial consequences, a few of which are described below.
What Defines a Hit-and-Run Auto Collision?
Anyone who is involved in a car accident and immediately leaves the scene without exchanging personal information with the other parties involved has committed a hit-and-run offense. Laws may vary slightly by state, each having unique caveats and exceptions to just how the person fleeing would be considered guilty of this act. Under California law, for example, a driver is guilty of a hit-and-run even if a they stop to talk to the others involved, but neglects to provide their contact information and proof of insurance before departure. (Note that this definition is only applicable to minor car accidents.)
Another factor that determines the premature departure of an individual from a car accident is whether they waited for authorities to arrive on the scene. If you leave the scene before police officers arrive, you are in violation of the law. Understand, however, that these laws do not exist in a vacuum. If there are extenuating circumstances, such as the need to transport an injured victim to an emergency room immediately, then you can legally leave the scene before police officers arrive. (In this case, you would have to leave your personal and insurance information with the other parties before departure.)
Potential Consequences of a Hit-and-Run
Most of the time, there is no justification for fleeing the scene of a car accident, and you could face severe consequences for doing so. For example, a hit-and-run may qualify as either a misdemeanor or a felony:
- Misdemeanor: Only physical property was damaged, and the expenses fall below the state-determined threshold.
- Felony: An individual was injured or killed in the collision. (If injuries resulted in the absence of wrongful death, the severity of the injury partially influences the determination of whether the offense is considered a felony or misdemeanor.)
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor for a hit-and-run collision, you can face anywhere between 90 days and up to one full year of jail time. Felony convictions are much more severe, however, and can result in a prison sentence lasting between 16 months to four years. In either circumstance, the negligent party may face a maximum of $10,000 in fines. This amount does not include the associated court fees and compensation funds for the victim. Those convicted of a felony may also lose their license for six months.
If you have found yourself facing a potential conviction for a misdemeanor or felony hit-and-run case, you must get in contact with a car accident lawyer. A good lawyer will ensure that you do not face excessive penalties and give you fair legal representation throughout your case. You do not have to face this alone. Get in touch with a car accident lawyer today to get the legal protection you need.