By: KGD Law
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The Consequences of Hit-and-Run Accidents
It is easy to imagine the feeling of wanting to go back in time after an accident. You’d make a different choice to prevent the disaster. However, running away from an accident is not the same thing. Running away is immoral and puts people at risk for further harm. Many people would never leave the scene of a motor vehicle collision. Still, Florida has one of the highest rates of fatal hit-and-run accidents. This doesn’t mean Floridians have less morals than the rest of the nation. Fatal hit-and-runs have increased across the nation.
Nobody knows exactly why hit-and-run accidents have increased. Cellphones are overly distracting for many while driving. However, this does not explain why some states have a much higher hit-and-run rate than others. Another reason for increases in hit-and-runs is an increase in the number of drivers and pedestrians. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 2 out of 3 deaths from hit-and-runs in 2016 were with pedestrians or bicyclists. This begs the question, are people running because they can get away with it?
It is true that a pedestrian is not likely to give a successful chase after being hit by a vehicle. However, it is also more likely that people run because they are afraid of facing the consequences. That is why it is important to consider both the criminal, civil, and moral consequences of hit-and-run accidents.
The Criminal Consequences
The criminal consequences of a hit-and-run accident vary based on circumstance. If you leave the scene of an accident, it may be a misdemeanor or a felony in Florida. Examples of misdemeanor offenses include accidents where there was only property damage. You may have to do up to 60 days in jail and can face fines, but it’s not a felony.
In order to get felony hit-and-run, you have to cause injury. It is a third-degree felony if you harm someone. The courts may sentence you to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. If you kill a person and leave the scene, it is a first-degree felony. You may spend up to 30 years in prison and have to pay $10,000 in fines.
These penalties should be a deterrent. However, they often fail to be a deterrent because the people who run count on not being caught. It is the fear of consequences that makes people run. Ironically, those consequences are what should make them stay. Staying on the scene could prevent a harmed person from dying. Running only ensures that help is delayed.
The Civil Consequences
The civil consequences of a hit-and-run accident also vary depending on the situation. For example, if it is only property damage, a hit-and-run driver may only be responsible for the cost of those damages. However, when it gets into personal injury, the costs can be much greater. They may involve medical expenses, lost wages, funeral expenses, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.
In regard to medical insurance, Florida law requires Personal Injury Protection (PIP) on every auto insurance policy. If you are in a hit-and-run accident and are in a vehicle, this PIP coverage will pay out before the person who ran has to pay. This is not an attempt to alleviate punishment but rather to make sure you get the care you need immediately, rather than waiting for a lawsuit.
The Moral Consequences of Hit-and-Run
A reasonable person with normal morals should understand the consequences of leaving the scene of a motor vehicle collision. This is especially true when someone is injured. However, people in accidents will likely have a surge of adrenaline, and this alters the decision-making process. That is why it is important that people consider the action of running is an immoral one, even if there is only property damage.
When a person is in an accident, whether or not it was his or her fault, they should hold themselves appropriately accountable for the damages. Even if it wasn’t your fault, sticking around ensures that all parties get what they need to make the end results are as fair as possible.
You may think if you run into an old, broken down fence that you don’t need to pay to have a new one built. However, that old fence could be holding in a person’s pet. You cannot really know the extent of the damage you have caused until you have met with the victim or the police to figure out if there are damages that need to be remedied.
Running from an accident is foolish and immoral, and the better option is for a person to remain at the scene until police come and everything is documented.
The Risk of Getting Caught
It is very risky to run from an accident in today’s technological world. People fill neighborhoods and commercial districts with surveillance devices that make almost all actions outside the privacy of your home observable.
Closed-circuit television cameras and systems monitor sidewalks and business fronts. Parking lots have security cameras. There are dashboard cams, and doorbell cameras. This isn’t even considering the fact that nearly everyone has a camera on their smartphone. The biggest deterrent to hit-and-run crimes should be that it’s immoral, but it’s also very likely that someone will see you do it.
You cannot evaluate the risk of getting caught by simply looking around to see if anybody else is around. There’s almost always someone around. While running from an accident is tempting based on the thought that you can get away with it, people should dismiss this thought because you will be caught.
If you are the Victim of a Hit-and-Run Motor Vehicle Collision
Take pictures. Try your best to photograph the vehicle and license plate of the vehicle which hit you. Then call the police. At Kirshner, Groff & Diaz we have the tools to track down the driver who fled the scene. With nothing more than the license plate, we can access a data base to find the at fault driver. Even if you do not have the opportunity to obtain the license plate, call us. There are times we have gone to the scene and been able to obtain video from a business or residence.
Punitive Damages for Victims of Hit and Run Accidents
At Kirshner, Groff & Diaz, we fight for our clients. State appellate court has held that leaving the scene of a car crash, even without evidence of drinking, is sufficient to support an award of punitive damages. Langlois v. Wolford, 539 S.E. 2d 565 (Fa. App. 2000) (Ruling that the State had criminalized the act of “hit and run” and that fleeing from the scene of an accident demonstrated a conscious indifference of the consequences of their actions.) Brown vs. Ford, 900 So.2d 646 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005) (Holding that a Jury could hear evidence of fleeing from the police and fleeing from the scene of an accident in determining punitive damages.)
We also argue the Defendant fleeing from the scene constitutes a spoliation of evidence. It is well settled that a defendant’s attempt to cover up his or her misconduct supports a claim for punitive damages. General Motors v. McGee 837 So.2d 1010 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002) (Ruling that a punitive damages award may be justified not only by the defendant’s actions but also by their subsequent behavior). If and when suit is filed, we intend to seek punitive damages against your insured.
If liability is contested by the at fault driver, the fact he or she fled the collision site will come into evidence to show he or she was at fault for the collision. See Lynch v. McGovern, 270 So.2d 770 (Fla. 4th DCA 1972). Holding that leaving the scene of a collision creates an inference of negligence.
Hiring an Attorney if You’ve Been in a Hit-and-Run
If you are the victim of a hit and run driver, you will need an attorney to help you. If you’ve been injured, a good personal injury lawyer ensures that you are fully compensated for your damages. If you’ve lost a loved one in a hit-and-run accident, you may also be compensated for your loss. You cannot bring your loved one back, but you can have the other party cover funeral expenses and obtain compensation for loss of companionship.
Make sure you hire an experienced law firm to handle your case that is well-versed in personal injury law. This will maximize the amount you are awarded for your damages and ensure that the legal process is as painless as possible.
If you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident, the courts will look favorably upon you. Not only was the person who ran unwilling to take responsibility for his or her actions, he or she also left you without any concern for your well-being. This immoral action is not what makes a successful society, and the court will punish the person for it.
The attorneys at Kirshner, Groff, and Diaz are experienced in personal injury law, and they pride themselves in making themselves available for their clients. Their compassion for justice and getting victims compensation for their losses is admirable. Not only that, but if you contact their office, you’ll get to speak to an actual lawyer. They won’t give you the runaround, and you’ll get immediate access to the help you need.