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Leaving the Scene of an Accident in Florida

Drivers have a legal duty to remain at the scene of an accident. Even the fastest paramedic cannot get to the accident scene as quickly as those involved. The drivers on the scene could save an injured person’s life.

Willfully leaving the scene of an accident, a scenario commonly known as a hit-and-run, constitutes a crime in Florida. You can get charged with this crime regardless of who caused the accident or whether you broke traffic laws before or during the crash.

Upon conviction, the penalties for a hit-and-run could range from a fine and probation to 30 years in prison.

What Constitutes Leaving the Scene of an Accident?

Florida requires drivers to take several steps after a car accident. But a driver cannot do any of them if they leave the accident scene.

After an accident that causes bodily injury or death, you must:

  • Immediately stop at the accident scene or as close as possible to it
  • Assist anyone injured by calling for help or taking them to a hospital
  • Report the accident to the police
  • Provide information to the other drivers and the officer investigating the accident

Your duties after an accident that only damages property are slightly different:

  • Immediately stop at, or as close as possible to, the accident scene
  • Exchange information with the other people involved and the investigating officer
  • Report the accident to the police if the crash caused at least $500 in damage

The information you must provide after all accidents, regardless of the outcome, includes the following:
Driver In Car Accident

  • Driver’s license
  • Insurance carrier
  • Driver’s name and address
  • Vehicle owner’s name and address
  • Vehicle registration and license number

If you hit an unoccupied vehicle and you cannot find the vehicle’s driver or owner, you must leave a note with this information. You must also contact the police to report what happened.

When you’re involved in an accident, you must stay until you have exchanged information and rendered assistance, if necessary. In other words, hit-and-run offenses include:

  • Failing to stop
  • Stopping, then leaving before you render assistance and exchange information

Also, the duties to stop, render assistance, and exchange information are separate offenses. You commit one offense if you fail to stop or leave the scene before fulfilling your legal duties. You commit a different offense if you stop but refuse to render assistance or exchange information.

Why Do People Leave the Scene of an Accident?

Drivers have many motivations for leaving an accident scene without talking to the others involved or the police.

Some hit-and-run accidents happen simply because the driver believes the police will not catch up with them. They might have no reason to run other than to avoid the trouble and cost of a car accident on their record. These drivers committed no crime until they left the accident scene.

A similar situation happens when drivers get overwhelmed after an accident. These drivers let anxiety and fear get the better of them and drive away instead of stopping and facing the police. Again, they might have avoided consequences if they had stayed. But by leaving the scene of the accident, they likely broke the law.

Occasionally, a driver runs because they were responsible for the accident. They fear getting a ticket and reporting the accident to their insurer. Depending on the damage and injuries caused, they might even get sued. A driver who behaves this way turns a ticket and an insurance claim into a potential criminal offense.

The drivers who face the most severe consequences are the ones who were already in trouble when they committed the hit-and-run. Maybe they were fugitives evading the police or probation officers when they hit the other car. Some have outstanding warrants and risk arrest by talking to the police. Or they might have been drunk or high and committed the crime of leaving the scene of an accident to avoid DUI charges.

Generally speaking, a driver’s reason rarely excuses the driver’s actions. Prosecutors only need to look at whether the driver violated the law by willfully leaving the scene of an accident.

Is Leaving the Scene of an Accident a Crime?

Running after a car accident violates the leaving the scene of an accident Florida law. If the police find evidence that you committed a hit-and-run, they will arrest you. The classification of hit-and-run crimes ranges from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree felony. The police will book you into jail until your arraignment and bail hearing.

After that, the judge will set the schedule for your case. You will have multiple hearings before your trial date. During this time, your defense lawyer will discuss possible deals with the prosecutors. Most cases result in a plea bargain, but some cases reach trial.

A conviction requires a guilty plea or a guilty verdict after a trial. The judge will sentence you if you get convicted of hit-and-run charges, and your sentence will depend on the facts of your case.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident: Property Damage

If you left an accident scene that only caused property damage, you should count yourself lucky. A property damage only (PDO) hit-and-run gets charged as a second-degree misdemeanor.

For purposes of charging you, it does not matter whether:
  • You hit another vehicle or a fixed object, like a mailbox
  • The crash occurred on private land, like a parking lot, or a public road
  • You hit private property, like a parked car, or public property, such as a light pole

If you get convicted of a PDO hit-and-run, a judge can sentence you to up to 60 days in jail, up to six months of probation, and up to $500 in fines. The judge can also order you to pay restitution to the property owner as well as court costs.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident: Injury

When is leaving the scene of an accident a felony? If someone was injured or killed, prosecutors in Florida could charge you with a felony hit-and-run.

The lowest level of felony hit-and-run happens if someone suffers a minor injury, and prosecutors charge these cases as third-degree felonies. Under Florida law, your sentence can include up to five years in prison, up to five years of probation, and a fine of up to $5,000.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident: Serious Bodily Injury

“Serious bodily injury” under Florida law includes any injury that causes:

  • Serious disfigurement
  • Substantial risk of death
  • Loss or impairment of a bodily member or organ

When you leave the scene of an accident, you have no idea how seriously anyone was injured. This situation could increase your charge to a second-degree felony and triple your sentence.

In Florida, a judge can impose a sentence for hit-and-run causing serious bodily injury of up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident: Death

Car Accident SceneWhen someone dies in a hit-and-run crash, prosecutors can pursue a first-degree felony charge. Notably, the victim’s death does not need to happen during the collision. If someone dies days, weeks, or months later due to their car accident injuries, you can still get charged with a hit-and-run death.

The prosecution does not need to show that you caused the accident, and you only need to be involved in the accident for a hit-and-run charge.

Upon conviction, a Florida judge can sentence you to up to 30 years in prison, 30 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000.

When Is It Okay to Leave the Scene?

You will have several opportunities to offer your defense in a hit-and-run case. During the investigation, the police will probably interview you. You should have an attorney with you when speaking to the police. Your lawyer will know how to present your defense and when you should stay silent.

Your lawyer will also present your defense to prosecutors while negotiating a plea deal. Sometimes, prosecutors will drop or reduce the charges based on your defense. Other times, showing a reduced level of culpability will help your lawyer get a plea deal.

To prove hit-and-run, prosecutors must show that you willfully left the accident scene. Your defense will need to establish that one of the elements of the crime did not happen or that you were justified in leaving the scene. Some defenses to a hit-and-run include:

Your Actions Were Not Willful

You could show a lack of will in a few ways. If you were unaware that you hit another vehicle, you did not know there was an accident scene. Thus, leaving would not constitute a willful act. Be aware that a judge or jury will look at the damage to each vehicle to determine whether you can credibly say you did not feel or hear the collision.

You might also prove a lack of will if you do not have the mental capacity to know what you are doing. You could support this defense with medical records showing that you suffered a concussion or that the crash triggered PTSD flashbacks.

You Did Not Leave the Accident Scene

Suppose there was no safe place to stop after your crash. You drove to find a safe place, and when you stopped, you realized the other driver did not follow you. You returned to the accident scene, but the other driver had already left.

In this situation, you could show that you fulfilled your legal duties by stopping as close as possible to the accident scene based on the conditions at the time.

To support this defense, you should have reported the accident to the police. If you drove away without notifying the police, the authorities might question your story.

You Were Not Involved in the Accident

If you lent your car to someone else who left an accident scene, prosecutors cannot charge you with hit-and-run. Likewise, you could not commit a hit-and-run if you were in the passenger seat instead of the driver’s seat.

And if another driver falsely accused you, you would have a defense to hit-and-run, and the other driver might face charges for filing a false accident report.

The Law Justified Your Actions

In very narrow situations, you might be justified in leaving an accident scene. If you needed to deliver yourself or someone else to the hospital for a medical emergency, you might have been justified.

You might also use a justification defense if you were the victim of a road rage accident and reasonably believed the other driver would attack you if you stopped.

When to Consult a Traffic Attorney

Leaving the scene of an accident is a grave offense. A lawyer can analyze the charges against you, investigate the prosecution’s evidence, and develop a reasonable defense to explain why you left the accident scene. This defense could help you overcome the charges, get a fair plea deal, or limit penalties.

A hit-and-run might be your first brush with the law, but experienced defense lawyers deal with these types of cases all the time. To discuss your charges and the defense you can mount, contact The Denson Firm to schedule a free phone consultation.

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