What happens if you are involved in an accident? Most people’s natural instinct in that situation is to up and leave—the need to leave a chaotic and daunting situation would overpower their rationality. Although leaving the scene of an accident is illegal and morally wrong, it is not uncommon for people to do so.
Car accidents and crashes happen every day and can happen to anyone. After an accident, giving in and following that instinct to flee can lead to potentially dire penalties and life-altering consequences.
What Does it Mean to Flee the Scene of an Accident?
An estimated one in every four motor vehicle-related accidents in Florida is a hit-and-run. This is when the driver chooses to flee from the scene instead of taking responsibility or calling an ambulance and 911. Leaving indicates that they failed to fulfill their statutory duties and, therefore, can be possibly charged with an offense.
According to Florida’s Statute 316.061, it is considered a crime to leave the scene when:
- The person willfully flees the scene without offering proper information to the property’s owner (including their name, driver’s license number, and diver’s registration information);
- The person is involved in an accident with another person’s property (car or building).
If the property owner is not at the scene or present to receive your information, you must report the crash or accident to the nearest law enforcement agency. Also, under Florida law, leaving the scene after the accident constitutes a crime if it results in either injury, death of another individual, or property damage.
What are the Requirements After an Accident?
When you are involved in an accident, it’s important not to flee the scene. Instead, you must comply with the following requirements and duties:
- Stop the vehicle and stay at the location. You can move the car to a place that does not obstruct or cause traffic.
- Share your personal information with the other driver, the owner of the damaged property, or the police that responded to the accident, including your name, address, driver’s license, and vehicle identification number.
- Cooperate with the police on the scene. Give them all the information they need.
- If possible, offer assistance to any injured person at the location. Contact an ambulance if you can’t take them to the hospital.
What Will Happen if You Decide to Leave the Scene of an Accident in Florida?
If you flee the scene of an accident that you are involved in, you may face legal repercussions. In Florida, accident victims can bring forward a legal claim against the driver responsible for the accident if they suffer from grave injuries or significant property damage. The driver leaving the scene will undoubtedly change the trajectory of the civil claim.
Leaving an injured victim without ensuring that they receive medical attention can make their injuries worse. Additionally, the emotional anguish and trauma are also higher. Moreover, leaving indicates that the driver is refusing to take responsibility, which paints a bad impression on the jury and raises the degree of fault.
Under Florida’s law, if someone is injured or dead, the offense will be a felony. That leads to grave consequences with maximum sentences of up to 30 years in prison. The severity of the penalty will highly depend on the victim’s state. The crime can be identified as a misdemeanor if no death or injury is involved.
What Potential Penalties Can You Face?
The penalties and legal implications of the crime will depend on the nature of damage or harm caused by the accident.
The Accident Involves Property Damage
This nature of the damage is a second-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, a judge can impose any combination of the following consequences; six months of probation, sixty days in jail, and a $500 fine.
The Accident Involves a Death
For accidents that involve death, the offense will classify as a first-degree felony. It has steep penalties of $10,000 in fines and up to 30 years in jail. In all leaving-the-scene cases that involve injury or death, the driver that left the scene may also be subject to a mandatory driver’s license revocation as determined by the court.
The Accident Involves an Injury
If the crash involves an injury, the offense will be deemed a third-degree felony. It will have penalties of 5 years of probation, $5000 in fines, and up to 5 years in prison.
The Accident Involves Driving Under the Influence
If the accused that left the scene is driving under the influence, they will be subjected to a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 2 years.
Can You Be Charged if You Left After Witnessing an Accident?
In case you were just a witness to the accident and were not directly involved, do not panic. You are not legally obligated to stay and see everything through. However, it is the right thing to do, especially if the crash or accident occurred in a non-busy street or parking lot.
If the other driver leaves the scene, you might need to call 911 yourself. It would be better to take the initiative in this situation. The faster someone does something, the quicker the authorities and medical professionals will be able to respond. This way, the victim will be able to receive immediate medical attention to avoid worse injuries.
There is also the case that the people involved might want you to testify in court. It is not strictly enforced or expected for a witness of an accident to drop everything or change their schedule for an accident they were not involved in. However, if you can lend your support and immediate action at the time of the accident, it can save a life.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney for Legal Help
Understandably, leaving the scene is one’s first instinct when involved in a traumatic accident. While that is the case, you shouldn’t be swayed by your fear. Though, if you did leave, you must contact a lawyer immediately.
A criminal defense attorney can help you through legal proceedings. When you have a qualified and skilled attorney at your side, the chances of reaching an outcome that’s favorable increase. A good lawyer can help you build your case and achieve the best possible outcome.
Contact our law office at Hanlon Law Clearwater to schedule a free consultation.
600 Cleveland St #1100
Clearwater, FL 33755