Motor vehicle-related accidents are all too common on the nation’s roads. According to figures from the National Safety Council (NSC), 46,980 people died in motor-vehicle crashes in 2021, and 5.4 million people sought medical attention for their injuries.
All road users have a legal duty of care towards other drivers and pedestrians, ensuring they operate their vehicles safely and in accordance with road rules and regulations. Each state also places a responsibility on drivers to stop at the scene of an accident so long as it is safe to do so.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In some instances, a driver responsible for an accident may illegally flee the accident scene. This article will take a closer look at the legalities of a hit-and-run accident, helping you understand your rights as a victim.
What is a Hit-And-Run Accident?
A hit-and-run occurs when a driver has an accident with another motor vehicle, cyclist, pedestrian or fixed object without stopping to identify themselves and exchange contact details or assist anyone who may need help.
Most states do not require the driver to have caused the accident for it to constitute a hit-and-run. Instead, the act of fleeing the scene ensures this. The accident need not occur on a public road or highway as hit-and-run laws in many states also apply to parking lots, rural roads and garages.
This means that if a driver is involved in an accident, whether with another vehicle, pedestrian, or property, they are legally required to remain at the scene, provide necessary information, and contact the police or emergency services if needed.
Legal Consequences for a Hit-And-Run
A hit-and-run accident can result in both criminal and civil actions against drivers. Criminal charges for a hit-and-run may vary according to state but typically, this offense is classified as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor charge may lead to a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 6 months in prison. Felonies charges are more severe resulting in fines of thousands of dollars, and depending on the nature of the crime, longer jail sentences possibly spanning several years.
In addition, victims of hit-and-run accidents may file a civil claim against the responsible party seeking compensation for their injuries and losses. An experienced car accident specialist such as this car accident lawyer SLC can guide you through your claim. A successful claim may result in damages being awarded for:
- Medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Lost income
- Emotional distress
- Property damage
In addition to these sums, a court may award punitive damages against a hit-and-run driver which are designed to punish the defendant and serve as a deterrent to others from engaging in such dangerous or egregious behavior. In some cases, a court may also award treble damages to the claimant.
This is where a court triples the amount of compensation the claimant is entitled to. While treble damages are punitive, they also provide additional compensation to victims where damages alone may not be enough to compensate them for their losses.
If you have been involved in a hit-and-run accident, it is advisable to speak to an experienced car accident attorney who can advise you of your rights.