Hit-and-run accidents are on the rise in the U.S. There were 1,274 fatal hit-and-run car accidents nationwide in 2009, and by 2011 there were 1,449. Even more troubling, this 13.7 percent increase comes during a three-year period when overall traffic deaths fell by more than 1,500. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that approximately 20 percent of all pedestrian fatalities were the result of a hit-and-run.
After a car accident, particularly if the driver was doing something wrong, it can be very tempting to flee the area. However, there can be serious legal consequences for doing so.
A hit-and-run is defined as being involved in a car accident and then leaving without giving the other parties your information or offering “reasonable assistance,” such as calling an ambulance or taking someone to receive medical attention. New Jersey Traffic Laws state that “the driver of any vehicle, knowingly involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident…” Later on in the statute, this statement is expanded to include “the driver of any vehicle knowingly involved in an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle.” Therefore, regardless of whether or not the accident resulted in injuries or fatalities, you are required to stop at the scene of any accident you are involved in.
The legal consequences for a hit-and-run accident depend on the extent of the damage. If the accident resulted in injury or death, you could face up to 180 days in jail, a suspended license for up to one year, and fines of up to $5,000. If the accident resulted only in vehicle damage, you could face up to 30 days in jail, a suspended license for up to six months, and fines of up to $400.
It is important to note that, in addition to criminal and administrative punishments (i.e. jail time and suspension of drivers license), there can be other consequences. Your insurance company can dramatically increase your rates or cancel your insurance policy altogether if you are found guilty of a hit-and-run accident. You could also face civil liability for your role in the accident and leaving the scene.
Police will typically conduct an investigation to identify the driver in a hit-and-run, especially if there are injuries or fatalities. An experienced personal injury attorney will also work with eyewitnesses, law enforcement, and private investigators to help determine the driver’s identity and hold him or her accountable for their actions. Once the driver is identified, his or her choice to leave the scene of the accident can have a serious, adverse effect on the outcome of a civil lawsuit.