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Leaving the Scene of an Accident

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On the news, we hear “hit and run” all the time. But what does it really mean? In the State of Florida, it is illegal for a driver of a vehicle involved in an accident to leave the scene, or to “hit and run,” without first stopping to render aid (if necessary) and providing license and insurance information to the victim. The relevant Florida Statutes are 316.061, 316.062, and 316.063. There are two types of damages involved with leaving the scene of an accident: property damage and serious bodily injury or death.

Call our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Kate Mesic today. We can be reached at (904) 615-8950.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident Involving Property Damage

There are two different statutes under which you could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident with property damage. Florida Statute 316.061 requires that the damaged vehicle be attended at the time of the accident. This means that the vehicle must have someone physically present in or at the vehicle when the accident occurred. However, if the vehicle is not attended at the time of the accident, you could be charged under Florida Statute 316.063.

If you are involved in an accident, you must stop at the scene until you comply with 316.062, Florida Statutes. Your legally required duties include:

  • Immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close to as possible and in a manner that does not obstruct traffic more than necessary.
  • Give your name, address, and registration number of the vehicle to the others involved in the accident.
  • Furnish your driver’s license or permit to drive, if requested and available, and
  • Provide your information, registration, and driver’s license to any police officer at the scene.

If the owner of the damaged property is not present, and he or she cannot be located, you have a duty under 316.063 to leave this information in a conspicuous place so that the owner of the damaged property can find it upon return.

Penalties & Potential Defenses

Leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

In most leaving the scene of an accident cases, the State raises restitution and wants the defendant to pay for the damage to the other person’s car. The prosecutor will usually argue that since you caused the damage to another person’s property, you should be responsible for making the victim whole, i.e. paying for the damage.

Florida law, however, does not support this position. Instead, Florida courts have held that restitution should only be ordered when it is caused by the offense with which you are charged. If the damage would have resulted regardless of whether you left the scene, then restitution is not proper.

The following are defenses to charges of leaving the scene of an accident with property damage:

  • Failure to properly identify the driver
  • Failure to stop was not willful
  • Lack of knowledge that an accident occurred
  • You attempted to provide your information, but the other driver refused to accept it
  • The other driver’s behavior caused you to safely leave the scene to call the police

Hit & Run Involving Serious Bodily Injury or Death

A much more serious offense occurs when a driver is involved in an accident resulting in death or serious bodily injury. In that scenario, the driver in addition to stopping immediately and providing the information listed above, also has a duty to render reasonable assistance. If the injured person is not in a condition to receive the driver’s information, and there is no police officer on scene, the driver must report the accident to the nearest law enforcement agency.

If there is injury involved, the State has to prove the following during trial:

  • The accident resulted in death or serious bodily injury,
  • The driver either knew of the resulting injury or death or reasonably should have known from the nature of the accident, and
  • The driver willfully failed to immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible.

The main purpose of this statute is to ensure that accident victims receive medical assistance as soon as possible.

Possible Penalties & Defenses

The penalties for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death or serious bodily injury are much more serious. Under Section 316.027, Florida Statutes, penalties for leaving the scene differ depending on the injury. If the accident does not result in death, the offense is considered a third-degree felony, punishable up to five years in prison or five years’ probation, and a $5,000 fine. If the accident results in death, the offense is classified as a first-degree felony, with penalties of up to thirty (30) years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In each case, it is mandatory that the offending driver have his or her driver’s license revoked for at least three years.

In addition to those listed above, other defenses our criminal lawyer in Jacksonville, FLmay employ include:

  • Assistance rendered was reasonable
  • Defendant stopped as close as possible to the scene of the accident
  • Defendant did not know or should not have reasonably knew that death or serious bodily injury occurred.

If you are facing charges of leaving the scene of an accident, it is important that you contact an experienced traffic crime attorney in Jacksonville to discuss your case. Contact us today for a free criminal consultation.

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