One second. That’s all it takes to turn your world upside down.
One moment, you’re driving or walking along as usual without a worry or care. Suddenly, you are hit from out of nowhere and by the time you gather your senses, the car is speeding away, leaving you feeling stranded and confused. You’ve just been the victim of a hit and run.
Or perhaps you dented a car while in a parking lot, but you couldn’t find the owner of the vehicle to swap insurance and information. In a panic, you fled the accident scene, and now you are having doubts. You’re wondering what your legal rights are under Florida law. Can you be arrested?
What is a hit-and-run?
A hit-and-run is defined as a car accident where one of the involved parties leaves the scene of the accident without providing their contact and insurance information as required by Florida law. A typical hit-and-run perpetrator might be a person who hits another car, waits for that driver to get out of their vehicle, and then drives away quickly. Or, having not seen the owner of the vehicle they collided with, perhaps they left the accident scene without leaving a note.
Why do hit-and-runs happen?
Hit-and-run accidents often occur when the at-fault driver is uninsured, underinsured or unlicensed. In most cases, if somebody is running from an accident, it means they don’t have insurance, there is a warrant for their arrest, or they’re drunk. Sometimes, though, a person may leave the accident scene out of panic. In cases where the person responsible for the hit-and-run doesn’t have insurance, an injured victim might fight to have their medical bills and other expenses paid through the compensation fund awarded by the court.
The problem with a hit-and-run case is that, unlike a normal auto accident, the victim doesn’t receive the insurance contact information from the at-fault party, so they wind up having to file a claim with their own insurance company under their underinsured or uninsured motorist policy.
If a person is injured in a hit-and-run accident, then the police may try to identify the person who fled the accident scene by interviewing witnesses and looking at the damage done to the victim’s vehicle. But investigating a hit-and-run case is a difficult process and not often successful, which leaves the victim helpless and forced to pay for their damages and injuries through their own insurance. At the same time, a person who fled the accident scene may feel bad about leaving after the panic subsides, but they’re afraid to come forward to local law enforcement because of the possible penalties they’ll face.
It’s a difficult situation for all parties involved.
That’s where our Tampa hit-and-run attorneys can help. Our skilled accident lawyers are an essential aid in streamlining the process after a hit-and-run, allowing you or a loved one focus on recovery. Whether you were the victim of a hit-and-run or you mistakenly fled the accident scene and want to know what steps you should take now, consider consulting our Tampa hit and run lawyers as soon as possible. The longer you delay, the harder it will be to prove your case.
Florida hit and run law: penalties & criminal charges
A hit and run accident is different from other auto accident cases in that it isn’t just a civil case, but a criminal case as well. This is because leaving the scene of an accident in which you are involved is against the law in Florida.
If a person leaves the scene of an accident and is identified, they may be charged in both criminal and civil court. There is an enhanced penalty if that accident resulted in injury or death to the victim.
In Florida, the penalties for hit and run drivers changed on July 1, 2014 when the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act (section 316.027, Florida Statutes) was signed into Florida law. The statute is named after Aaron Cohen, a 31-year-old avid cyclist and father of two who was fatally struck by an alcohol impaired driver that fled the crash scene in February 2012 in Central Florida.
A hit and run offense may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on if the accident resulted in injury or death. For instance, if no one was injured and there was only property damage, the driver may be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 60 days in county jail and/or a fine of $500.
If the driver fled the accident scene and there was serious injury or death, however, the charge may be elevated to a third-degree or first-degree felony and result in up to 30 years in prison and/or $10,000 in fines.
In addition to criminal charges, a hit and run victim may also be able to pursue a personal injury case against the at-fault driver for certain damages resulting from the accident.
Recoverable damages in a Florida car accident case
Yes…that is, if you can find them. That’s the rub, really. Under Florida personal injury law, accident victims can sue an at-fault driver if the damage goes above and beyond what their own PIP insurance policy is able to cover. However, in order to sue someone for a hit and run, first you have to identify them.
If the driver can be located and found after a hit-and-run accident, you may be able to recover monetary damages for medical bills, lost wages, property damage and other expenses. In cases of wrongful death, the deceased person’s surviving family members can file a claim for the funeral expenses as well. These are known as economic damages.
Non-economic damages are pain and suffering and loss of consortium. A loss of ability to earn is considered a non-economic damage with the prospect of economic damages.
Punitive damages may also be awarded in rare cases where the defendant’s actions were so outside the realm of acceptable behavior that the court uses extra damages to punish them.
These damages are strictly for civil (personal injury) claims. The driver who fled the accident scene may face additional fines and fees related to the criminal charge, as discussed above.
What to do after a hit and run [8 steps for victims]
Step 1: Check for injuries
If you happened to be walking or in your vehicle when someone else collided into you, the first thing you should do is check to see if you or anyone else is injured. If so, your top priority is to get out of harm’s way (if possible) and wait for the ambulance to arrive. Ask bystanders to call 911, or call yourself if nobody is around to help.
Step 2: Call police
Even if you aren’t in need of immediate medical attention, you should still contact law enforcement. Wait for the authorities to arrive and remain at the scene to help them complete the police report. People often wonder what police do in a hit and run since the other driver has long left the scene. The answer is quite a lot. They can interview eyewitnesses and use evidence found at the accident scene to build a case against the driver and possibly identify them. You will also need the police report they file to obtain compensation from your insurance company.
Step 3: Recall details
If the at-fault driver fled the scene, try to remember as many details as possible so you can give the best description possible of the vehicle and driver when the police officer asks. Details you should try to recall (and write down if necessary) include:
- Vehicle make, model and/or color
- License plate (state and any numbers/letters you can remember)
- Driver characteristics (hair color, gender, skin color, etc.)
- The direction in which the driver fled
It can be difficult to remember these and other important details about the driver and vehicle immediately after the incident due to stress, anxiety and shock you may be experiencing. Some details may come to you in the moment, while others might be recalled well after the incident. It’s important to write any and all memories down as they come back to you.
Step 4: Take photos and video
Before you leave the accident scene, remember to take photos with your cell phone or a camera to document the damage that occurred. In hit-and-run cases, photo evidence can be especially valuable. If you’re unable to take photos or video because you were hurt, ask someone else to do so for you.
Step 5: Talk to witnesses
In many hit and run cases, other drivers, pedestrians or passersby may have witnessed the accident and stopped to help. Ask them to stay so that the police officer can find out what they saw that you might have missed. Also, be sure to write down their name and contact information in case you need their testimony later on.
Step 6: Notify insurance company
Payment for hit-and-run injuries usually comes through your own car insurance, even if you were hit as a pedestrian or bicyclist. While you are still at the scene of the accident or soon after leaving, you’ll want to call your auto insurance company and notify them of what happened. Do this as soon as possible to avoid any loss of compensation because your insurer claims they weren’t notified in a timely manner.
Step 7: See a doctor
Once the police officer concludes the investigation and says it’s okay for you to leave – and after your case has been documented – it’s important for you to seek medical treatment if you were hit. Every injury should be examined, even if it doesn’t seem serious at first. Sometimes, it can take time for injuries sustained in an accident to manifest themselves, so schedule an appointment with your doctor to check for possible injuries.
Step 8: Consult a lawyer
Last but not least, schedule a free consultation with a local hit and run accident attorney to determine your rights. An experienced injury lawyer will help you ensure that you don’t lose out on any potential financial compensation from your insurance company or the at-fault driver if they are caught.
Should I get a Tampa car accident attorney for a hit and run?
Not sure you need to hire a lawyer just yet? Think hard on it. For hit and run drivers, it’s vital you talk to a defense lawyer as soon as possible to minimize the penalties you might face while still protecting your constitutional rights. For hit and run victims, you should never settle your car accident claim without at least consulting an attorney first.
Insurance companies aren’t looking out for you. When it comes to auto insurance claims, hiring a lawyer can significantly increase your settlement amount.
(Source: The Insurance Research Council’s study, 1999)
|Type of injury||Average settlement
without a lawyer
with a lawyer
|Minor cuts and bruises||$1,166||$4,771|
Hit and run accident statistics
In many cases, hit-and-run accidents are rear-end collisions with other cars, or auto-pedestrian accidents. In these accident cases, it’s usually easier for the driver who caused the accident to leave the scene because their car has not sustained major damage and the driver isn’t too injured to drive away.
Hit-and-runs are especially common on I-4 in Florida. On the Veterans Expressway, it’s easier for cars to leave the scene because they often have space to escape and a high speed limit, unlike on narrow intercity streets where traffic and stop lights might prevent a driver from getting away.
Here are some surprising facts and statistics about hit and run crashes that prove you’re not alone:
- More than one hit-and-run crash happens somewhere in the U.S. every minute.
- In 2015 alone, there were 737,100 reported hit and run crashes (nearly 12 percent of total crashes that year).
- 2,049 hit-and-run deaths occurred in 2016 – the highest annual total on record.
- Over the past 10 years, nearly 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths were caused by hit-and-run crashes.
- Most victims of fatal hit-and-run collisions – 65 percent – were pedestrians or cyclists, compared to just 1 percent of driver fatalities.
- Hit-and-run crashes involving pedestrians are most likely to occur between midnight and 4 a.m. (when suspects are more likely to escape unseen), on roads with lower speed limits (where pedestrians are most likely to cross) and in areas with heavy foot traffic.
- Florida, New Mexico and Louisiana topped the list of states with the highest death rates from hit-and-run crashes.
Talk to a Tampa hit and run attorney today
We understand that making the decision to hire an attorney is a big step. You probably already feel overwhelmed, and filing a lawsuit seems like more than you can handle.
But here’s why it’s worth taking the time to meet with an experienced attorney:
For starters, your attorney will work to establish the facts of your hit-and-run case and act as your legal representation, whether it’s to an insurance company or law enforcement. In many cases, insurance companies will fight to avoid paying full compensation for hit-and-run injuries, even when it is for their own client. Having the right hit and run lawyer in your corner can be the difference between a minimal and a deserving settlement.
Attorney Peter Tragos’ tips for choosing an injury lawyer
- …Ask the attorney how many cases they have taken to court and all the way to trial.
- …We assign an attorney to your case from beginning to end.
- We care about EVERY SINGLE ONE of our cases.
If you schedule a meeting with our car accident lawyers, your first consultation is 100% free. During your free case evaluation, we’ll review your case and give you all the information you need to make the best decision moving forward.
We take time to understand and evaluate your case. Our goal is to win for you, not give you empty promises to make you sign a contract.
When you sign with us, an attorney is assigned to your case from start to finish. We’ll determine the complete extent of your injury, as well as contact the insurance company or the other party’s lawyer.
With thorough investigation, our attorneys will negotiate for your highest insurance payout. We will always keep you informed of the offers from the insurance company. If you are satisfied with the offer, then your case is settled.
If the settlement offer is unfair, we’ll take them to court by filing a lawsuit on your behalf.
We want you to know that you’re never alone because Tragos, Sartes & Tragos has your back. From evidence gathering to legal wrangling, find out how our law firm can help you.
Don’t delay!Schedule a free consult now