In Florida, leaving the scene of a car accident (otherwise known as hit-and-run) is a serious crime. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, hit-and-run accidents increased in the state 7 percent between 2013 and 2014. According to the statistics, someone leaves the scene of the accident in 25 percent of all car accidents.
Unfortunately, many people think they have done something wrong when they are involved in a car accident. As a result, they think it is in their best interests to leave the scene of the accident. However, doing so can result in serious ramifications, so it is important for everyone to understand their legal obligations when involved in an accident and the consequences for failing to carry them out.
What are my duties following a car accident?
Under Florida law, if you are involved in a crash resulting in injury or death to another person, or damage to a motor vehicle or property, you are required to:
• Immediately stop;
• Give your name, address, drivers' license and registration information to the parties involved (if they are in a condition to receive the information) or the police officer investigating the scene; and
• Give reasonable assistance to parties injured in the crash (i.e. calling an ambulance or transporting the party to the hospital if necessary)
If there is no police officer present, and the parties involved are deceased or not in a condition to take your information, the law requires you to report the crash to the nearest law enforcement authority as soon as possible.
What are the penalties for failing to stop?
If you willfully fail to stop and perform the duties specified by law, you can face serious penalties. If only property or vehicles were damaged in the collision, you face second-degree misdemeanor charges that are punishable by fines, and up to 60 days of jail time.
However, in more serious collisions, the penalties increase in severity depending on whether someone is injured, seriously injured (i.e. disfigurement or a high likelihood of death), or deceased because of the collision. Violators in such accident face felony charges punishable by the following:
• Jail time of up to 5 years and fines up to $5,000, if someone was injured in the crash.
• Jail time of up to 15 years and fines up to $10,000, if the collision resulted in the serious bodily injury of a party.
• Jail time of up to 30 years (minimum of 4 years) and fines up to $10,000, if the crash resulted in death.
In addition to these punishments, felony hit-and-run violators can be forced to pay restitution and are subject to license suspension of at least three years. Additionally, community service may be ordered in some cases.
Speak to an attorney
Although there are exceptions, many people in Florida leave the scene of an accident because they do not know how to handle an accident situation or are unaware that they hit or damaged something while driving (especially in cases of property damage). Regardless of the reason for not stopping, leaving the scene is a foolhardy move that can significantly worsen your legal situation.
If you are charged with leaving the scene of an accident, you face serious criminal charges and need an attorney that is experienced in this area of the law. A former prosecutor, Douglas Rudman at The Rudman Law Group is such an attorney, and can work on your behalf to obtain the best possible outcome.