When accidents occur, it is understandable that parties involved may feel fear and this feeling can push them to make some very rash decisions. One of the decisions which probably carries the most weight is fleeing.

Humans are designed to feel fear and when this feeling is triggered, especially in the case of an accident, there is an instant ‘fight or flight’ response. While many people weigh their options before making a decision, the adrenaline rush may push accident victims to make a wrong choice; fleeing the scene of the crash.

Fleeing the scene of an accident can spell doom to the driver as there are several things that may be attributed to the decision which has been made. In this article, we will be looking at the consequences road users stand to suffer when they flee an accident scene and why you may need a criminal defense attorney.

What Constitutes a Hit and Run accident? 

In broad terms, a hit and run accident is one wherein one of the parties that have been involved in the car accident chooses to flee the scene of the accident for whatever reason. Whether the accident had been between two vehicles, a vehicle and a pedestrian, or a vehicle and a fixed object, such a driver or drivers are expected to remain at the scene of the crash until law enforcement agencies arrive. However, failure to remain at the scene of the accident for proper documentation may constitute a hit and run accident.

In many states across the United States, failure to stop at the scene of an accident or render help to people who have been injured is seen as a crime. In some other states, hit and run accident laws have been expanded to provide coverage for animals crossing the road.

Across the United States, most state laws do not recognize the offending or at-fault party in a hit and run case, that is, it does not matter whether the driver who fled the scene of the accident was at fault for the accident or not. The crime is perpetrated simply by leaving the scene of the accident.

However, if a driver had left the scene of the accident to get emergency assistance or cellphone reception to reach out to the authorities, most states do not consider this to be a case of hit and run accident as long as the driver is back at the scene of the accident as of when the authorities arrive.

Hit and run accidents are also not limited to the highway as most states consider the possibility of such an occurrence on public roads, in parking lots and other places. If a person who has hit a stationary car in the parking lot had failed to leave his or her contact information after the act, then he or she may be held for the offense of hit and run accident.

Hit and Run Accidents: What are the Penalties?

Hit and run accidents are considered to be a criminal offense. However, the punishment for this offense varies from one state to the other. In many states, criminal penalties may be awarded to a driver who has been convicted of hit and run accidents. The extent of punishment meted out on such a driver is however also dependent on the classification of the accident, whether as a felony or misdemeanor.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, a hit and run accident case may be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. When a diver leaves the scene of an accident where victims have sustained an injury, such a person may be held for felony hit and run. The injured victim in such a case as this can either be a pedestrian or other road users.

A driver that has been convicted for felony hit and run faces steep punishment as in most states, fines of between $5,000 and $20,000 may be imposed on the offending party. In some cases, the driver may also risk incarceration as punishment for the crime committed. The incarceration sentence hinges on the extent of the injury suffered by the victim. A convicted driver may face up to 15 years sentence for felony hit and run.

For misdemeanor hit and run cases, such drivers are treated to more lenient punishments in the form of no more than $5,000 fine and up to a year jail term.

Hit and Run Accidents: Are There Any Administrative Penalties?

While a driver who has been convicted of hit and run accident faces criminal punishments for the crime committed, such a driver may also be faced with administrative penalties. Almost all the states in the U.S. have administrative penalties outlined for such crimes as this. Administrative penalties involve the license of the convicted driver; this means that such a driver may lose their access to their license for a certain period of time.

Regardless of whether a driver has been convicted for felony or misdemeanor hit and run, such a driver faces an automatic suspension of his or her driver’s license for no less than six months.

Some states may also impose the revocation of the license for as long as three years. The extent of the administrative penalties depends on the state where the accident occurred, the type of injury sustained by the victims and the nature of the car accident. Some convicted drivers may face as high as a lifetime revocation of their driver’s license.

Hit and Run Accidents: Are There Any Civil Penalties?

In the event that a driver has been named as the at-fault party in the accident which has led to injury to other road users, such a driver may be faced with civil actions in the form of a car accident injury claim. The injured person may seek redress for the damages they have suffered as a result of the accident.

In a car accident injury claims case, the lawsuit is aimed at delivering monetary compensation to the victims of the accident. The monetary compensation may be directed towards offsetting the victim’s past, present and future medical bills, rehabilitation costs, repair or replacement of damaged property, lost wages and other losses.

However, it is important to note that this kind of civil lawsuit may also exist even if you hadn’t committed a hit and run offense.

By: Dan Murphy

Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel M. Murphy provides clients in the Denver area with aggressive and sympathetic legal representation. He graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1994 and worked as a public defender before starting his own practice in 1996. He has defended clients accused of the most difficult criminal and alcohol-related charges. He also serves as a Moot Court Judge for Denver-area law students who rely on his mentorship.