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Penalties for Leaving the Scene of an Accident

All motorists know, or should know, their obligations when involved in an accident. These duties are uniform throughout the country with some few differences and subtleties of which many motorists may not be aware, some of which depend on whether the accident was property damage only or involved injuries. The penalties for not fulfilling these obligations also depend on whether the accident involved injuries or death or was property damage only.

Motorists fail to remain at the scene of an accident for various reasons. If a driver caused an accident by erratic driving that caused another vehicle to take severe evasive action that resulted in a collision with another car or object, then the at-fault driver might have been unaware that an accident took place. Another example is a driver who may have struck a pedestrian on a dimly lit road and was unaware that a person was injured. Other reasons include:

  • Panic
  • Driving without a valid license or on a suspended license
  • Driving under the influence
  • Being a undocumented immigrant
  • Driving a stolen vehicle
  • Lacking auto insurance
  • Carrying illegal drugs, firearms or stolen property
  • Other factors leading the driver to believe no accident, injuries or property damage occurred

Fleeing the scene of an accident is either a misdemeanor, if only property damage occurred, or a felony if there were injuries or a fatality.

Duties in a Property Damage Only Accident

Under Fla. Statutes § 316.061-063, you are required to stop and give certain information to the other motorist or property owner. Your statutory duties include:

  • Stopping at the scene of the accident or as close as practical and safe
  • Providing your name, address and registration to the other motorist or property owner
  • If requested, displaying your driver’s license
  • If police arrive, you are required to show license, registration and other requested documents, usually proof of insurance
  • Should the vehicle owner or driver not be present, or the owner of other property such as a fence or structure, you should either attempt to locate the owner or place a note in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or property with your name, address and vehicle registration
  • Notifying the nearest police station of the accident

Your failure to abide by these duties is a second degree misdemeanor under Florida law, which carries a penalty of up to 60-days in jail and a $500 fine.

Duties in an Injury or Fatal Accident

Your duties in case of an injury accident or where a fatality has occurred are found under Fla. Statutes § 316.027 and 316.062. Your responsibilities under these circumstances are similar with added responsibilities:

  • Immediately stop at the scene or as close as practical and safe
  • Provide your name, address and vehicle registration to the other motorist
  • If requested, provide your driver’s license to the other motorist
  • If police are on the scene, submit your name, address, registration and any other documents, which is typically proof of current insurance
  • If police have not arrived but it is apparent the other motorist requires medical attention or requests it, you have a duty to render assistance by either making arrangements to transport the other party to a medical facility or transporting the person yourself. Usually, a cell phone call to 911 is sufficient.
  • If the injured motorist is too injured and unable to be provided the required information from you, then call 911 or report the accident to the nearest police station or facility

Should you not perform these duties, you are subject to prosecution as a third degree felony. If convicted, you face:

  • Up to 5 years in state prison
  • Or felony probation
  • And a fine up to $5000
  • Mandatory license revocation

In case a fatal accident occurred, all of these duties except for providing your identifying information to the other motorist must be followed.

If you fled the scene of a fatal accident or did stop but neglected to call 911 or notify police or do anything to render assistance, you face first degree felony charges. A first degree felony carries:

  • Up to 30 years in state prison
  • A fine up to $10,000
  • Mandatory license revocation

Your sentence may be enhanced if you are found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while fleeing the scene of an injury or fatal accident. The law imposes a 2-year mandatory minimum prison sentence under these circumstances.

Proof Required and Defenses

To prove that you violated any of the relevant Florida statutes relating to leaving the scene of an accident, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of the crime:

  1. You can be identified as the driver of the vehicle
  2. You knew or should have been aware that an accident occurred
  3. You knew or should have been aware that another party was injured or killed in the accident or that property damage occurred
  4. You willfully failed to stop at the scene or as close to the scene as possible and failed to remain to provide your name, address and registration to the other driver, party or investigating officer
  5. You failed to render assistance to a party at the scene who requested it or who reasonably appeared to be in need of medical care

As indicated, there are scenarios where a defendant was unaware of the accident or where the other party at the scene advised the defendant that no assistance was needed or that no further action was required.

In cases where a defendant is later arrested and found to be under the influence, the state must prove that the defendant was under the influence at the time of the accident and that the defendant did not become intoxicated at a subsequent time.

Retain an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

In many criminal cases, early representation is the key to a favorable resolution. If you are charged with leaving the scene of an accident, an experienced defense lawyer can contact the police or the prosecuting attorney before arraignment or shortly thereafter to explain the circumstances of the accident or to point out the lack of evidence. It is also imperative that you speak to an attorney before you make any statements to the police.