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Hit & Run Accidents

What is a "Hit and Run"?

A hit and run describes an unlawful act of a driver hitting a vehicle then fleeing the scene of the accident. In a civil suit, the driver usually pays for damages related to the crash. 

According to traffic law, a hit and run accident is a crime in which a driver causes or is involved in a collision with another vehicle, property, or person; then, they fail to stop and provide information required by law. This information includes:

  • Their name and contact information, such as their address and/or phone number;
  • Their driver's license number;
  • Their insurance information, such as the name of their provider and their policy number;
  • Their license plate number; and
  • Any other additional information as required by the state in which the accident took place.

All of the required information is to be provided to the injured party, as well as any witnesses and law enforcement. This is so that once fault for the collision has been established the injured parties may obtain monetary damages, either from each other or from each other's insurance providers. Law enforcement is generally responsible for establishing fault. Additionally, some states require that the responsible party also files a police report.

Before discussing the evidence needed to prove hit and run, it is important to note what would not generally constitute a hit and run accident. In cases in which there is only property damage, and no physical person has been injured because of the accident, it is generally sufficient to leave a note on the damaged property which details the aforementioned information. Doing so would not count as a hit and run due to the fact that the offender did not fail to provide their information in an attempt to evade being held responsible for their actions. 

Some examples of evidence needed to prove a hit and run accident include, but may not be limited to:

  • Witness statements;
  • Dash cam footage;
  • Video proof from nearby security or traffic cameras;
  • Photographic proof of the property damage;
  • Documentation of any recent repairs or improvements made recently, prior to the accident;
  • Medical documents and bills; and
  • Evidence of missed work due to injuries resulting from the accident.

What Should I Do If I Am Involved in a Hit and Run?

The most important thing to do if involved in a hit and run, whether the victim or the offending driver, is to not leave the scene of the accident. Even if only minor damage is involved, it is important to remain at the scene. Stop the vehicle after the accident and call the police to report the accident. Exchange information with the other driver if possible, such as names, addresses, and insurance information. 

Further, if you are the victim, immediately note everything you can recall about the other driver and their vehicle, should they flee and the police find themselves needing such details. No matter the circumstances of the accident, you should ask any witnesses to remain and wait for the police to arrive.

If you have accidentally caused damage to someone's property while they are not around, such as hitting a parked car, it is your responsibility to leave a note with your contact information. You should include your name, phone number, insurance provider, and any other contact information. Alternatively, you may want to contact the police and have them document the accident, especially if it appears that extensive damage has occurred.

What are the Penalties for a Hit and Run?

The reasons why a person may commit a hit and run are numerable. The most common reason is that the driver does not have adequate auto insurance, or is wanted for other crimes. Many vehicle accidents also result in a traffic citation if the accident occurred because of distracted driving.

The penalties for a hit and run charge vary from state to state. A hit and run accident could also lead to more serious criminal charges, rather than a simple traffic citation. Hit and run accidents that result in major property damage are often misdemeanors with fines of up to $5,000, one year in jail, or both. Additionally, nearly every state also imposes administrative penalties related to the offending party's license. 

Offending drivers may also find themselves facing a civil lawsuit for damages, if the other driver sustains any personal or property injuries and decides to sue the offender. The plaintiff may also find themselves entitled to a monetary award meant to compensate them for any incurred medical expenses, damage to their vehicle, emotional distress, and other types of damages. The offending driver would be responsible for these additional awarded damages.

Hit and run crimes that involve serious bodily harm, serious property damage, evading the police, or death, may result in felony hit and run charges, instead of misdemeanor hit and run charges. Some jurisdictions organize felony hit and run charges into various degrees, such as “a felony in the fifth degree.” 

How Do the Police Track Down the Driver in a Hit and Run?

The police primarily utilize evidence and eye witnesses when attempting to track down the driver involved in a hit and run accident. As soon as you have called them and made your complaint, they attempt to

preserve as much evidence from the collision scene as possible. 

This evidence includes footage obtained from surrounding surveillance cameras, especially in parking lots and parking garages. Local businesses may also be a source of surveillance camera footage that could lead to identifying the vehicle that caused the collision.

Another source of evidence may come in the form of videos obtained by witnesses on their cell phones. So many people carry a phone with a camera that this is becoming more common form of evidence. A dashboard camera may also be another source of footage to be used as evidence. Vehicle and property damage, such as the paint left behind when the hit and run was committed, are other forms of evidence.

Witnesses are often invaluable assets when the police are attempting to track down the driver responsible for a hit and run collision. Eyewitnesses often make their own accident reports in addition to the report made by the affected driver. They often have noted or photographed the license plate number belonging to the responsible vehicle, and can provide a description of the responsible vehicle, such as color, make, model, etc. People in the parking lot, other drivers in the area, pedestrians, and employees of nearby businesses may be able to provide important information.

How Long After a Hit and Run Accident Can You Be Charged?

How long after a hit and run accident can a person be charged for the crime depends on how exactly the crime was categorized and filed. Misdemeanor hit and run generally must be charged within one year from the date of the accident. If the hit and run was filed as a felony crime, the suspect must be charged within three years.

Whether the crime will be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony is heavily influenced by the facts of each specific case. To summarize, a hit and run will most likely be categorized as a misdemeanor if only property damage occurred. A hit and run will most likely be categorized as a felony if more significant property damage occurred, or if someone sustained bodily injury or death.

It is important to note that in addition to criminal charges, a person found to be guilty of hit and run may also face a civil suit. The victim of the accident may choose to file a lawsuit against the offender in order to recover costs associated with the accident.

Law enforcement will attempt to track down the driver responsible for the hit and run accident. They may do this by using evidence provided by witnesses, as well as footage from surrounding security cameras. Another example of evidence would be paint left behind on the damaged vehicle or property.

Are There Any Legal Defenses for a Hit and Run Charge?

If you are facing hit and run charges, there may be a defense available to you based on the specifics of your case. The three most common defenses that attorneys raise for this specific charge include:

  • Involuntary Intoxication: This defense may also be referred to as diminished capacity. Essentially, your attorney will assert that you believe you were drugged, and became involuntarily intoxicated which caused you to become involved in the accident. It is important to note that this defense is unlikely to work unless you have strong evidence to prove your claim;
  • Responding To an Emergency: If you fled the scene of the accident because you were responding to an emergency, such as driving to the hospital, you may be able to use that as a defense against hit and run charges. However, you should keep in mind that it is ultimately up to the authorities of each specific jurisdiction to determine whether the circumstances constituted an actual emergency; and/or
  • Unaware Of an Injury, or Lack of Knowledge: To reiterate, the crime of hit and run depends largely on whether the offender was even aware of the fact that they caused damage or injury. It will most likely be difficult to establish that you were actually unaware of what occurred because of your actions.

Again, whether you are the victim or the accused, it would be in your best interest to collect and present your own evidence in order to defend yourself. Doing so may make a difference, especially for minor hit and run charges. A strong defense may mitigate the consequences, and will protect your rights.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Hit and Run Defenses?

If you are being charged with a hit and run, you should consult with an experienced and local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. It is important that your legal rights are protected, and that the situation is resolved quickly. Because state laws vary greatly in terms of how hit and run accidents are charged and penalized, a local lawyer will be best suited to helping you understand your state's specific laws regarding the matter. 

Further, a criminal defense attorney will also be able to help you determine whether any legal defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, an experienced criminal defense attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.