Hit and Run: The Definition
Leaving the scene of an accident, a more formal phrase for hit and run, can result in criminal charges.
A hit and run occurs when a driver strikes a vehicle, pedestrian, animal, bicyclist, or property and then leaves before checking for injuries or providing information. All individuals involved in the accident are legally required to remain at the scene. They must exchange contact and insurance information to help their insurance companies establish fault and provide coverage assistance.
Leaving a scene without fulfilling the requirements moves a civil matter to a criminal one.
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Misdemeanor or Felony?
A hit and run can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on damages, injuries, and deaths.
For the following, a hit and run could be a misdemeanor:
- Class C Misdemeanor – vehicle damage of less than $200, resulting in a maximum fine of $500
- Class C Misdemeanor – driver leaves without rendering aid, resulting in a maximum fine of $500
- Class B Misdemeanor – vehicle damage of more than $200, resulting in up to 6 months in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,000
The following are considered felonies:
- Leaving the scene of a non-injury accident, resulting in a maximum sentence of 1 year
- Leaving the scene after causing non-serious injury, resulting in one year in county jail to a maximum of 5 years in state prison. There may be a maximum fine of $5,000.
- Leaving the scene after causing serious injury or death is a third-degree felony. It can result in a sentence of up to 10 years and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.
Although the threshold of vehicle damage has not changed in years, even a scratch on a newer model car can cost more than $200 to repair these days.
Why Would Someone Leave an Accident?
Being in an automobile accident leaves everyone shaken. An individual may not make the best decisions under stress. However, here are some common reasons that would convince someone it was better to run than stick around:
Regarding the last point, the person may be in even more trouble with the boss if they don’t stay at the scene, but it may not occur to them at the time.
Driver Responsibilities at the Scene of an Accident
If you are involved in an accident, especially if it’s your fault, the minimum you must do is exchange your contact and insurance information with the other parties. Even if the damage seems minor, you are required to find a way to leave that information with anyone affected by the accident.
Being at fault in an accident in which property damage or injury occurs means you don’t leave the scene before you render aid to anyone injured. The accident might involve another vehicle, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian.
You must exchange your driver’s license and insurance information and await the police if they have been notified. If you are a commercial driver, you are required to show your operator’s license. If your vehicle can be moved, try to get it out of the way of traffic. However, if the damage or injury is serious, moving your car may not be wise.
Damaging an unattended vehicle doesn’t absolve you of your responsibilities. You must still stop and find a way to notify the vehicle’s owner or leaving the appropriate information with the damaged vehicle. Some options include:
- Waiting for the driver of the other vehicle to return.
- Entering surrounding businesses to see if anyone there owns the vehicle.
- Taking pictures of the damage you caused.
- Talking to witnesses and get their contact information. This is important; if a witness leaves the area, you may not be able to find them again.
- Leaving a note on the windshield with your contact and insurance information if you cannot locate the owner.
- Calling your insurance company and telling them what happened.
What if you damage fixtures or highway landscaping? Texas says you must take “reasonable” steps to find someone in authority to let them know. You must report the damage and leave your contact information.
Any failure to comply with these requirements can result in an arrest.
The good news is that Texas does not allow any statements you give when filing a report to be used against you in a civil suit. So be honest, accurate, and thorough.
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Potential Legal Defenses
There are some situations that may blunt the consequences of a hit-and-run charge:
- You were responding to an emergency.
- You were involuntarily intoxicated (Someone slipped you a drug without your knowledge).
- You were unaware of the accident or any injury.
If Convicted of Hit and Run
The severity of the penalties depends on any previous offenses and the extent of the injuries caused in the accident.
If this is your first offense, there was no death or serious injury, and you have no previous felony convictions, you will likely get probation or community service. It’s also possible you could receive a short jail or prison term.
If you have a previous offense, a previous felony conviction, or a suspended license, you can count on a stiffer sentence and higher fines, especially if death or serious injury occurs. Other circumstances can add or subtract to any sentence or fine you receive, such as driving under the influence or driving a stolen car.
Committing a hit and run will result in a fine and a sentence of some sort. The more damage or injury occurs, or if a death is involved, those punishments become more severe.
The best way to stay out of trouble is never to leave the scene of an accident, even if you are not at fault, before fulfilling the legal requirements explained in this post.
If you have left the scene of an accident, contact our office before speaking to the police or your insurance company. We are here to help.