When most people think of auto accidents, they imagine two or more vehicles colliding and then the drivers exchanging contact and insurance information while the police investigate. While those are the most common type, there are also hit and run accidents. In fact, there were over 700,000 hit and run accidents in the United States in 2015, according to AAA, which is the most recent year for which statistics are available.
There is a hit and run accident somewhere in the country every 43 seconds. Many of these accidents result in serious injuries to pedestrians, or even fatalities. In fact, over 2,000 people were killed during 2016 in hit and run accidents.
What Is a Hit and Run Accident?
A hit and run accident is precisely what it sounds like – a driver is involved in a car accident and then leaves the scene without stopping, providing identification or insurance information, or offering any type of assistance to anyone injured in the accident.
What Parties Can Be Involved in a Hit and Run Accident?
A hit and run can involve moving vehicles, but it can also include pedestrians and cyclists, trees and other stationary objects, and parked cars, as well. Some states also include animals in this definition, but that is not the case for all states.
Where Do Hit and Run Accidents Occur?
A hit and run accident can occur almost anywhere, including interstates, highways, surface streets and more. Most states also include parking lots, too.
What If You Hit a Parked Car or Other Stationary Object?
Sometimes, a hit and run occurs because the at-fault driver doesn’t know what to do in order to notify the property owner of the situation. For instance, if you backed into a car in a parking lot, it might be next to impossible to locate the owner to exchange information. In most states, the law requires you to leave your contact information in some way, such as penning a note and putting it under the other car’s windshield wiper. You are also usually required to report the accident to law enforcement.
How Long Can You Be Charged for a Hit and Run Accident?
The statute of limitations for a hit and run varies by state, but also by the type of accident. For instance, in California, a misdemeanor hit and run with minor property damage has a statute of limitations of one year. However, a hit and run accident involving bodily injury to another person is three years.
In the state of Texas, you have two years, unless the accident resulted in a fatality. In that case, there is still a two-year limit, but the clock can be suspended for up to a year, meaning there is actually a three-year limit.
In the state of Georgia, you have four years to file a claim about property damage, but only two years for bodily injuries. Many states do not have a separate statute of limitations for hit and run accidents – it’s the same timeline used for any type of car accident.
What Are the Likely Outcomes of a Hit and Run Accident?
If you are the at-fault driver involved in an accident and you flee the scene, you should be prepared for some very steep penalties and negative outcomes. The specifics will depend on the state in which the accident occurs, severity of the accident, the amount of bodily and property damage, whether anyone was killed, and whether you were committing a crime (speeding, reckless driving, DUI, etc.) at the time of the accident. Some of the potential outcomes include the following:
- Misdemeanor hit and run charges with jail time and a fine (depending on the severity of the accident)
- Felony hit and run charges, prison time, and a large fine in the case (depending on the severity of the accident)
- Potential suspension or loss of your license
- An increase in your auto insurance
- Potential cancellation of your auto insurance and an inability to find another policy with a different insurer
Other charges and repercussions may also occur depending on the reason for the accident. For instance, if alcohol or drugs were involved, the penalties will certainly escalate. Note that you will also be at risk of a civil lawsuit, particularly if someone was injured or killed in the accident. Many states employ a policy that triples the penalty awarded against you, as well. For instance, if a jury were to award the plaintiff $20,000 in damages within a civil trial, the judge would triple that amount to $60,000. Your auto insurance company will not pay these damages, either – they’ll come out of your pocket.
Will You Be Notified by Mail?
In certain circumstances, you may be notified by mail that you were involved in a hit and run accident and what to do about it. This is usually the case with accidents that occur within a parking lot or another area where traffic cameras can get a shot of your license plate, or if there were bystanders or witnesses who were able to get your license plate information. If you receive a notification in the mail, contact a criminal defense attorney.
What Should You Do If You’re Involved in a Hit and Run Accident?
If you’re the at-fault driver in a hit and run accident, the first thing you should do is contact a criminal defense attorney. They will be able to discuss the case with you, provide specific information, and help you determine what to do next. This is particularly important if someone else was involved in the accident and sustained injuries or was killed. However, it is always wise to have experienced legal counsel to guide you through the process, even if there was only minimal property damage done in the accident.