If you’re involved in a car accident, NEVER leave the scene before police arrive
Approximately 1 in 4 vehicle crashes in Florida are hit-and-run accidents, in which a driver leaves the scene instead of accepting fault or contacting emergency services. While some hit-and-run crashes result only in property damage, others can cause severe harm or even wrongful death. Regrettably, many pedestrians are the victims of such accidents, and they, too, suffer serious injuries or lose their lives.
It’s crucial to understand that hit-and-run accidents aren’t just dangerous—they’re against the law in Florida.
Statistics on Florida hit-and-run accidents
Florida is one of the worst states for hit-and-run accidents. During the past 5 years, there were close to 516,000 hit-and-run accidents leading to over 1,250 deaths. This equates to 250 hit-and-run fatalities annually in the state. In most cases, over each of the past 5 years, these accidents have also caused an average of around 1,100 severe injuries to surviving victims.
In 2022, 144 pedestrians and 50 bicyclists were killed in hit-and-run accidents. The number of total fatalities from these accidents decreased from 2021 but accounted for 73% of all deaths stemming from hit-and-runs. Sadly, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths increased by 3%.
Are hit-and-run accidents civil or criminal?
There are different legal consequences for a car accident based on whether the case is considered civil or criminal. Depending on the circumstances, a car accident can be both.
Criminal lawsuits only happen in car accident cases in which someone broke the law. Examples of this would include hit-and-run accidents, reckless driving accidents and accidents where the driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs.
These cases are prosecuted by the state and can result in punishments like fines, jail time and license suspension.
Civil lawsuits, on the other hand, can be brought by the victim (called the plaintiff) in order to recover compensation for damages caused by the other driver’s negligence. This compensation can include money for the following:
- Property damage
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
In cases like hit-and-run accidents, a judge may also order the negligent driver to pay punitive damages, which are intended to punish the driver for their behavior and deter similar actions in the future. In order to recover compensation, the plaintiff will need to prove that the driver’s actions or inactions caused the accident that resulted in their injuries.
Penalties for hit-and-run accidents
If a hit-and-run driver is eventually tracked down, they can be criminally charged with the following:
- For damage to personal property only, the offending driver can be charged with a misdemeanor in the second degree, which carries penalties of up to 60 days of jail time and a maximum $500 fine.
- If the victim suffers personal injury, the offending driver can be charged with a second- or third-degree felony, which carries up to 5 years in prison and a maximum $5,000 fine.
- If a victim dies, the driver can be charged with a felony in the first degree and receive up to 30 years in prison with a mandatory minimum of 4 years.
- For drivers who are under the influence of an intoxicating substance, the mandatory minimum sentence is 2 years in prison. Driver’s licenses may also be revoked in any case where the perpetrator left the scene.
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Penalties for hit-and-run drivers were changed in July of 2014 when the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act was signed in Florida law. The statute is named after a 31-year-old cyclist, husband and father of two, who was struck and killed by a drunk driver who fled the scene of the accident in February 2012.
The driver was apprehended and given a 2-year prison sentence, which is lower than the punishment he would have received had he been sentenced for DUI manslaughter. According to the Act, drivers found guilty of fleeing an accident scene that led to someone’s death must serve a minimum of 4 years in jail.
Why do drivers typically flee the scene of an accident?
Unfortunately, when drivers leave the scene of an accident, they can be difficult to track down, making it challenging for victims to recover money for the incident.
Some of the reasons drivers leave the scene of the accident include:
- They don’t have car insurance.
- They’re driving an unregistered vehicle or on a suspended license.
- They were in the process of committing another crime or have an outstanding warrant.
- They don’t have a driver’s license.
- They’re afraid of deportation or criminal action.
Who pays for damages in a hit-and-run accident?
Florida is a no-fault insurance state, which means that paying for monetary losses related to an accident is generally the task of your insurance company with personal injury protection insurance. In other words, the procedure is much the same whether the causing driver leaves the scene or not.
According to Florida law, all drivers involved in an accident are required to stop and wait for law enforcement, even if they’re not responsible for causing the crash. If the driver is located, their insurance should pay for your medical bills and any damages to your property.
In hit-and-run accidents where the driver is not tracked down, you have no choice but to turn to your own auto insurance policy to pay for your damages. Fortunately, because of the uninsured/underinsured motorist laws in Florida, you should be able to recover compensation for damages such as medical bills, ongoing medical treatment, lost wages, physical therapy and rehabilitation costs, and property damage.
Although Florida automobile insurance policies offer coverage for uninsured or underinsured drivers, your insurance company may try to pay as little as possible following an accident. It’s important for you to completely understand your insurance policy to know what your rights are.
Before discussing anything with your adjustor, you should consider discussing your situation with a skilled personal injury attorney. Unfortunately, insurers aim to avoid paying settlements to injured victims and go out of their way to make unfair lowball offers that aren’t sufficient to cover the costs of your damages. When an attorney handles the discussions about compensation, you have a much better chance of recovering a satisfactory settlement.
What types of insurance apply after a hit-and-run accident?
There are a few different insurance options that you might help pay for your damages after a hit-and-run accident in Florida, so it’s important to know which ones apply to your case.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is an optional add-on to your auto insurance policy in the event that you’re in a car accident with a driver who lacks insurance or doesn’t have enough coverage in their policy. It’s also appropriate to cover your damages if you’re in a hit-and-run and the other driver isn’t found.
Sometimes, your uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage isn’t enough to cover all the costs of your damages after a hit-and-run accident. Although this type of coverage is optional, drivers are urged to carry it because of these types of situations.
Personal injury protection coverage
Florida also requires all drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP) coverage as part of their auto insurance policy. PIP can cover the costs of up to 80% of your medical expenses if you get into an accident. If you rely on this coverage for some of your compensation, it’s crucial to see a doctor for a medical evaluation within 14 days of the accident. Failing to do this in a timely manner could result in your claim being denied.
In some cases, you can even use your health insurance to cover the costs of your medical expenses. After a hit-and-run, this is often not enough, but if you also have PIP, you can use both to help minimize your out-of-pocket costs.
What happens to your insurance premiums if you’re in a hit-and-run accident?
It’s fair to worry that your insurance premiums might skyrocket after you’ve been involved in a hit-and-run accident. However, this only happens if you were the driver who hit someone and fled the scene. If you were the victim of a hit-and-run, it shouldn’t impact the cost of your premiums.
What to do if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run
If you’re seriously injured in a hit-and-run accident, you may not be able to do much other than wait for first responders. However, if you weren’t seriously injured, there are several steps you can take right away:
- If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident, the first thing you should do is check your entire body for injuries and call an ambulance and the police. If you’re unable to make these calls, ask a witness to do so for you.
- If you are sufficiently able to do so, tell the police as much as you can about the accident. They’ll be especially interested in the make, model and color of the vehicle that hit you. If you can, give them a description of the driver and the license plate information. Any details at all should be conveyed to the officers to give them the best opportunity to find the driver who hit you.
- Talk to any eyewitnesses, whether other drivers or bystanders. If it happens in a neighborhood or shopping center, go to the residences or shops and find out if anyone saw anything—or better yet, if they have cameras that may have caught the incident on tape.
- Take pictures of any relevant information, especially vehicle damage.
How do police investigate hit-and-run accidents?
In some cases, police are able to investigate hit-and-run accidents. For example, if your vehicle was struck while you were in a parking lot near stores and the driver fled the scene, there may be cameras around that captured the hit-and-run on video. This might improve the chances of the driver being found.
Police may also work with your personal injury attorney to track down the at-fault driver. If witnesses can be found, they can help to describe what happened. Evidence at the accident scene is also often helpful. The police may also canvass the general area while searching for drivers operating their vehicles erratically or suspiciously.
Is it legal to leave the scene of an accident if there’s no visible damage?
Many drivers have been in a situation where they’re parking, exiting a space or driving near parked cars and accidentally hit a parked vehicle. Whether this occurs in a parking lot or street, even when you don’t notice any visible damage to the other car, you should never just leave the scene. The vehicle might suffer damage you can’t see, but that doesn’t mean the driver won’t notice that something is wrong the next time they’re using it.
You can still face hit-and-run charges if you hit a parked car and leave the scene because you don’t think the other car is damaged. Instead of facing serious consequences, you should leave a note on the car that includes important details such as your name and contact information.
What to do if your car is hit and damaged while parked
Unfortunately, some drivers will hit a parked car, cause damage and flee the scene without leaving a note. If this happens to you, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands and call the police to report the hit-and-run accident.
Take photos of the damage to your car and the road around it; if there are skid marks, it can be telling evidence. Also, remember to take notes and get statements from any people who may have witnessed the accident.
Legal recourse for Florida hit-and-run victims
Leaving the scene of a car accident is a crime, so your only legal recourse as a victim is if the at-fault driver is found and charged.
If possible, the first step to take at the scene is to call the police. It’s best to wait on calling your insurance company until after you have calmed down and can give them statements that won’t jeopardize your claim.
If the driver is found, it’s best to hire a personal injury lawyer if you’re intent on getting monetary compensation from them.
A good car accident attorney will analyze your situation in order to build a strong case. They will also negotiate with your insurance company as well as fight for you in court if it comes to that. If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run car accident, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you recover your costs and obtain the compensation you deserve.