Every state defines a hit and run accident a little differently. However, it is any type of accident involving at least one vehicle that leaves the scene without stopping to identify themselves or render aid. Hit and run accidents can involve pedestrians, parked cars, property, another motorist, or in some states, even animals. Even if another car was completely at fault, if you flee the scene, it will still be considered a hit and run.
If you are involved in a wreck and do not stop, you may face several different penalties, including criminal, civil, and administrative. If you have been injured in a hit and run accident, an experienced car accident lawyer may be able help you recover compensation for your injuries.
Types of Hit and Run Accidents
A hit and run accident can involve a collision with another vehicle, a pedestrian, or even a stationary object such as a mailbox or fence. A driver who is involved in a wreck is responsible for stopping and exchanging contact information and assisting anyone that is hurt. If the car accident involves property other than another vehicle, the driver must contact the property owner, or leave a note with their contact information.
In a large number of cases, drivers who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs will try to leave the scene of an accident to avoid a drunk driving charge. A person who is driving under the influence will not be thinking clearly and may make an impulsive decision that they are sure to regret. In some cases, the driver of the car involved in a hit and run accident may be trying to avoid the police. The car may be stolen, they may be in possession of illegal drugs or guns, or they may have outstanding warrants that can land them in jail.
Car accidents involving pedestrians can be catastrophic and result in serious injuries or death. A driver responsible for this type of accident may panic and drive away. They may also fail to realize that they hit a pedestrian. In some cases, drivers have reported thinking that they had run over a piece of debris in the road or had just hit a curb.
Drivers are never justified in leaving the scene of an accident. Even when drivers feel that they are not at fault for the accident, they have a legal responsibility to stop and exchange information. It is always advisable to call the police when a car accident occurs, even if it is not one that results in heavy damage or injury. An official police report is necessary to substantiate your claim, especially if the other driver left the scene.
Collisions with Parked Cars or Stationary Property
If your property was struck by a driver who left the scene, they can still be held liable. In most states, drivers who collide with stationary property, such as a mailbox or fence, must still make a reasonable effort to identify the owner of the property and tell them what happened. This can be done by leaving a written note with the driver’s contact information at the scene.
What Should You Do After an Accident?
Drivers who are involved in any type of accident are legally required to stop their vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so. Once their vehicle is safely stopped, state laws typically require that they:
- Check on the well-being of anyone else involved in the accident. This may require the provision of first aid, or contacting emergency medical services.
- Call the police.
- Exchange contact information and proof of insurance.
- Locate any witnesses who observed the wreck and obtain their contact information.
- Contact your insurance company and, if applicable, the other driver’s insurance carrier.
Consequences of Leaving the Scene of a Car Accident
One of the most serious consequences a person faces after leaving the scene of an accident is criminal charges. Although the severity of the penalty depends on what state you are in, it can range from a felony to a misdemeanor. Usually it will be a felony crime if any person is injured in the accident. This can result in fines up to $20,000 and possible incarceration up to 25 years.
Administrative penalties are also imposed in almost every state, usually through the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. A person’s driver’s license is automatically suspended for a period of six months, or even revoked for a lifetime, depending on the nature and circumstances of the accident. Insurance companies typically cancel the policy of any driver involved in a hit and run.
Hit and Run Regulation
A driver recently struck and fatally injured a pedestrian along Buckwalter Parkway, and after stopping briefly, drove away and called the police from her house to report what had happened. The driver was not charged for a hit and run, also known as fleeing the scene of an accident. She claimed that she was threatened by an onlooker and fled in fear. A South Carolina regulation, enacted before the widespread availability of cell phones, states that if a driver is involved in a wreck resulting in fatality or injury, they may leave the scene temporarily to report the accident to the police and medical providers.
Section 56-5-1210 of South Carolina law was enacted in 2004, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hutto. There is little indication that there was any significant debate in the legislature when this bill was put up for consideration nearly 15 years ago. Many note that the use of the term “temporarily” in the regulation is significant and critical. This language implies that a driver cannot leave the scene of an accident, and that they must return.
Some legal scholars have interpreted the regulation differently, such that one can only leave the scene of an accident if they do not have a cell phone or means to contact authorities, and they must return to the scene. Some factors to consider in determining if a violation of the law has occurred include whether the person has a cell phone that is charged and functional, the length of time it took them to report the accident, and whether the driver has good cause for not returning to the scene.
One major problem with the regulation is when it comes to drunk drivers. If a drunk driver caused an accident, they could potentially drive home and not return to the scene until their Blood Alcohol Content is lowered or claim that they did not take a drink until after the accident.
A corollary law, S.C. statute 56-5-1230, states that the driver involved in hitting a person or causing damage to their car must render assistance. Presumably this statue would be controlling because it is more specific. However, what if the driver gets out of their car, sees an injured person, but cannot render assistance without leaving the scene to call authorities? These questions remain unresolved under the law.
What a Hit and Run Victim Should Do
If you are able, call 911 immediately to report the accident. If you are injured but conscious, ask anyone who stops to help you to make the call. Police officers can gather evidence from the scene that may help them identify the hit and run driver. If there are witnesses to the accident, get their contact information.
If you have any information about the driver and vehicle, such as the color, make, and model of the car, let the police know. If you can remember even part of the license plate number, that will help. Call your insurance company and report the accident as soon as possible – but do not agree to a settlement.
What Legal Recourse Does a Victim Have?
The victim of a hit and run can sue the offender in court to recoup damages for any lost wages, pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, and property damage. Depending on what state you are in, some courts will impose punitive damages on hit and run offenders. This means that the victim of a hit and run may be entitled to receive a very high award, designed to be punitive in nature, rather than compensatory. Sometimes these are referred to as treble damages because they are three times as high as the compensatory damage amount. Punitive damages are rarely covered by a person’s insurance policy, and often the hit and run driver will have to pay out of pocket.
All South Carolina drivers must buy uninsured motorist coverage as part of their auto insurance. If the hit and run driver is never identified, you may receive compensation from your insurance company, up to the limits of your policy.
However, it is not a good idea to deal with your insurance company yourself in this situation. An insurance company wants to pay out as little as possible on a claim. A Columbia car accident lawyer will negotiate fair compensation for your injuries.
South Carolina Car Accident Lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Represent Victims of Hit and Run Accidents
Our experienced team of car accident lawyers in South Carolina at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. is committed to helping clients locate offenders and hold them accountable. Although no legal settlement or judgment can change what has happened to you, it can help you get back on your feet and focus on moving forward with your recovery. To learn more about how we can help, call us today at (803) 929-3600 or contact us online. With six office locations throughout South Carolina, we represent injured victims throughout the state.