Under Florida law, it is a criminal offense to leave the scene of an accident without performing the statutory duties required. This means that any unlawful departure from the site of a vehicle crash can lead to misdemeanor or even felony charges, depending on the nature and severity of the accident.
Hit and runs in Florida are a serious matter. It is important to be aware of the laws surrounding this offense in case you are ever charged with leaving the scene of an accident.
Definition: What Does It Mean to Leave the Scene of an Accident?
Leaving the scene of an accident, also known as a “hit and run” in Florida, is defined as the driver’s failure to stay at the site of the motor vehicle crash to fulfill their statutory duties. This applies whenever the crash involves damage to property, bodily injury, or death.
According to Florida’s Statute 316.061, it is a crime to leave the scene of an accident when:
- The person is involved in a crash with another person’s property (including a car or building)
- The person willfully leaves the scene of the crash without providing proper information to the owner of the property (including name, address, driver’s registration information, and driver’s license number)
In this case, if the property owner is not present to receive the information, the law requires you to leave the information in a readily visible area on the car and report the accident to your nearest law enforcement agency.
Hit and Run Florida Law
Under Florida Statute 316.061, fleeing the scene after a car accident that results in the injury or death of another person or property damage (another person’s car or home) constitutes a criminal case. Motor accidents can cause serious bodily injury, which requires immediate medical attention, or severe property damage that must be addressed immediately.
Regardless of who is responsible for the accident, you must not flee the scene of the crash. Instead, you must:
- Stop your motor vehicle and stay at the scene of the accident
- Share your personally identifying information, including your name, address, vehicle identification number (VIN), and driver’s license with the other driver or property owner
- Show your driver’s license or vehicle permit to investigators at the scene, including the insurance company, when asked
- If possible, offer assistance to any person injured at the crash scene. Call an ambulance if you cannot take them to the hospital
NOTE: Ensure you share your driver information with the police officer at the scene if the other party involved in the accident is not in a position to receive your information. If possible, report the accident to the nearest police station and get a written notice.
Suppose you hit or damage an unattended car or property. In that case, you are still legally obligated to stop and attempt to notify the property owner of the incident, as well as provide your driver’s name, address, vehicle description, and VIN.
If you are not in a position to make an in-person notification, leave a note with your personal information in plain sight and notify the police.
Statutory Duties: The Driver’s Legal Obligations
Florida Statute 322.0261 defines the legality of fleeing a crime scene and the statutory duties motorists must follow after an accident. Statutory duties entail sharing your name and other contact information while ensuring no one is injured.
If someone is in a motor accident and fails to comply with the statutory requirements, they may be charged with criminal charges of leaving a crime scene. Depending on the damage caused in the motor accident, these criminal charges may be a felony.
While the legal theory is usually negligence when drivers are involved in car accidents, the plaintiff must prove that all elements of negligence were met for a conviction:
- Elements of negligence: The plaintiff must claim breach of duty, causation, and damages that resulted in the car accident. Upon establishing a breach of duty, the fact finder assesses if the defendant breached the duty. If the assessment is affirmative, it should be determined if the breach was the cause of the car accident and the plaintiff’s injuries and/or property damage.
- General duty: All drivers in Florida are obligated to drive reasonably to protect other motorists, passengers, and pedestrians on the roadway. A breach of one or more of the following duties may deem the driver who caused the accident to be negligent, provided the plaintiff can prove other elements of negligence were met.
- Duty to maintain equipment: Every driver has a duty to maintain his or her motor vehicle to ensure the vehicle is in a safe operating condition. Because the automobile will be on the road with other vehicles and roadway users, all drivers are required to provide periodic checks that all systems are functioning properly.
- Duty to drive at a reasonable speed: All drivers have a legal duty to maintain a reasonable and safe speed while on the road. However, a driver may also breach this speed if he or she is driving at the speed limit, but the speed is not safe. Factors like weather conditions, traffic conditions, road conditions, and visibility can be considered when determining safe driving speed.
- Duty to maintain control of the automobile: All drivers are required to maintain control of their motor vehicle by being alert and paying attention while on the road. Drivers must also be able to stop quickly to avoid catastrophic accidents.
Leaving the Scene of an Accident Involving Property or Vehicle Damage
For accidents that only involve damage to property, including a vehicle, building, or object, the driver has a legal obligation to perform the following duties:
- Stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash or as close to the scene as possible.
- Notify the owner/operator of the vehicle or damaged property of the driver’s name, address, and vehicle registration number.
- Show driver’s license if requested.
- Provide pertinent information to reporting officers, including license, registration, and address.
- If the damaged property is unattended (such as with a parked car or empty house), locate the property owner or securely attach the information in a conspicuous place on the property with driver’s name, address, and registration number. The driver must also notify local law enforcement.
Leaving the Scene of an Accident Involving Bodily Injury or Death
For accidents that involve bodily injury or death, the statutory obligations are a bit different. You must:
- Stop the vehicle at the crash or as close to the site of the crash as possible.
- Notify the owner/operator of the driver’s name, address, and vehicle registration number.
- Show driver’s license if requested.
- Provide information to reporting police offers.
- If medical treatment is needed, or if the other person requests medical treatment, you must render “reasonable assistance” to make arrangements for the person to get to a physician, hospital, or surgeon for medical treatment. In other words, it’s your duty to call an ambulance if the other person is hurt.
- If the other driver cannot receive the above information, the non-injured person must report this crash to local law enforcement.
Penalties of Leaving the Scene of an Accident in Florida
In Florida, those who are charged with a hit and run may face a variety of different penalties. These penalties will be determined by the nature and severity of the damage caused by the accident.
Accidents with injury
If there is a personal injury to another person, this offense becomes a felony of the third degree. Penalties for this charge include up to 5 years in prison or 5 years of probation along with a $5,000 fine.
Accidents with death
Leaving an accident that involves the death of another person is classified as a first-degree felony. Penalties are up to 30 years in prison along with a $10,000 fine. All drivers are also subject to mandatory license revocation.
If the person charged with a hit and run is found to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, they are subject to a mandatory minimum term of 2 years in prison.
Accidents with Damaged Property
Leaving an accident that only involved damaged property is a second-degree misdemeanor. Penalties are up to 60 days in jail along with a $500 fine.
Example Hit and Run Scenarios
Hit and runs are not all the same. They depend on the unique scenarios involved. Here are two examples of what a hit-and-run accident might look like.
John is on his phone while driving. Because he is not looking, he runs through a stop sign and hits Deborah’s car as she was legally passing through the intersection. Deborah’s car runs off the road and hits a road sign.
Rather than stopping to help Deborah and fulfill his statutory duties, John sees that Deborah is moving around in her car and drives away. Deborah is well enough to act quickly, taking photos of John in his car as he drives away.
A few weeks later, John is charged and arrested for leaving the scene of an accident. He may face heavy fines or even jail time even though Deborah was not severely injured. A criminal defense attorney can help defend John in court to ensure he is not given a penalty disproportionate to the offense.
Mary is driving around a lake that is popular among pedestrians and bikers. She is distracted by a bird flying over the lake, and runs her car off the road, hitting a cyclist. Instead of getting out of the car, Mary fears that her license will be taken away because of the points she has already sustained previously.
The cyclist, Tim, spends several days in the hospital following the accident to treat his severe injuries. Because of witness testimonies, they are able to track Mary down. Tim files a lawsuit against Mary for the damages he sustained, and the court rules in Tim’s favor.
Mary must now pay all of the damages Tim requested in addition to a fine for intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
To prove the crime of fleeing the scene of an accident at trial, the State of Florida must ensure the following factual elements are met beyond any reasonable doubt:
- The person being accused of the hit and run is the driver of the vehicle involved in the crash that resulted in personal injury, property damage, or another person’s death.
- The individual involved in the hit and run was aware of or should have known they were involved in an accident.
- The driver knew or should have known of the crash that led to the injury to or death of the victim or of the property damage.
- The defendant did not willfully stop at the scene of the accident or remain there until after providing his or her identifying information to the other driver, the injured person, or the investigating police officer. The defendant failed to provide “reasonable assistance,” which appeared to be necessary.
Some drivers involved in vehicle accidents flee the scene out of fear of being caught for violations that may include:
- Driving on a suspended license
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Not having a current auto insurance policy
Drivers can, therefore, flee the scene of the accident and take their chances of being apprehended by the police later. Being involved in a car accident can also be frightening as the body takes a natural “fight or flight” response.
It is often not until later, when the driver calms down, that he or she realizes he or she overreacted and aggravated the situation by “fleeing the scene.” A criminal defense lawyer can point out any extenuating circumstances to the judge that may help with your motor vehicle accident.
Hit and Run Attorney in Florida
Have you been charged with leaving the scene of an accident? Have you recently left an accident scene and are worried about what’s to come? You need an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights in court. Understand your rights and receive the best result possible with the help of the attorney at Mike G Law.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation.