Potential Charges for Leaving the Scene of an Accident in California

leaving the scene of an accident

Hit-and-run accidents have killed more than 17,000 people in the last decade, and California is home to the most hit-and-run fatalities. 

Leaving the scene of an accident without going through the proper procedures can open up serious legal repercussions. If the property was damaged or someone was injured or killed, the fleeing driver could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. 

If you’ve been in a hit-and-run accident, it’s critical that you get clued up on the potential charges, and how to maximize the chance of your case’s success. 

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the laws around leaving the scene of an accident and what charges a fleeing driver can face. 

What Are the Laws Around Leaving the Scene of an Accident?

Under California Vehicle Code § 20002, any driver that has been in an accident needs to do the following:

  • Stop at the scene immediately
  • Provide the other party with their name and address (or the name and address of the owner of the vehicle if they are not the owner)
  • Provide the other party with their vehicle registration number and driver’s license if it’s requested

If a driver causes damage to a parked car or stationary property (like a fence, gate, post, etc.) and the owner isn’t present, California law stipulates that they leave their contact information and a description of the accident in writing, prominently displayed on the damaged vehicle or property. 

In other words, if you’ve collided with another vehicle, you need to stop right away and exchange details with the other driver. If the other driver (or property owner) isn’t around, you need to leave a note with your details and a short explanation of the accident. 

Under California law, you’re also required to file a police report of the accident or inform the nearest California Highway Patrol within 24 hours.

California Vehicle Code § 20001 also stipulates that drivers must give reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident.

Penalties for a Hit-And-Run

If a driver leaves the scene of an accident without stopping and identifying themselves, this qualifies as a hit-and-run. Hit-and-run drivers can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the nature of the accident and the defendant’s criminal history. 

Misdemeanor Hit-And-Run

Hit-and-run drivers involved in minor accidents where no one was hurt are likely to be charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Hit-and-run misdemeanors can carry a fine of up to $1,000, a possible jail sentence of up to 1 year, or both. Further penalties can also include 2 points on your California driving record and 3 years of probation. 

Finally, if you’re found guilty of a hit-and-run misdemeanor, you may also need to make restitution for damages to property. 

Felony Hit-And-Run

If a hit-and-run case involves injury or death, it is a “wobbler.” This means that either misdemeanor or felony charges can apply. 

Drivers who’re charged with a felony for hit-and-run accidents can face:

  • A fine of between $1,000 and $10,000
  • 16 months to 3 years imprisonment in a state prison

If serious injury or death occurred, drivers can also receive a 2-4 year federal prison sentence. 

Besides proof of serious injury or death, there must also be proof that the driver did not stop, even though they knew the accident caused injury or death to another party. 

Hit-and-run accidents that involve death or injury can also cause the at-fault driver to lose their license for one year. 

Defenses for a Hit-And-Run

Were you the at-fault driver in a hit-and-run? Most drivers know that leaving the scene of an accident without stopping can have serious consequences, but many factors might cause you not to stop. 

For instance, maybe the accident was so minor that you didn’t even realize it happened. Thousands of accidents happen in parking lots every year. Although some can be fatal, a lot of parking lot accidents result in very minor damage. 

If you scratch someone else’s car with your door, you might drive away completely oblivious of any accident. 

A hit-and-run accident implies that the driver was aware of the accident but fled the scene to avoid repercussions. If a driver did not intentionally leave an accident scene and did not intentionally omit to leave their contact details and information—they are not guilty of a hit-and-run. 

Knowledge of the accident is an essential element of a hit-and-run crime. If the prosecution can’t prove this, the driver can’t be convicted.

What to Do if You’ve Been in a Hit-And-Run

Hit-and-run accidents are usually more complex and have bigger repercussions than auto accidents where both parties are present and exchange information. 

Whether you’ve been accused of leaving the scene of an accident prematurely, or been the victim of a hit-and-run, you should hire a car accident attorney to represent your case. 

Here are a few important actions to take as either the victim or the accused. 

Steps to Take if You’re Accused of a Hit-And-Run

Have you been accused of a hit-and-run? The first important thing to keep in mind is not to make an inadvertent admission of guilt. 

Remember, you have the right to remain silent and have your case defended by a lawyer who won’t be bullied or fooled with leading questions. 

As soon as you can, consult with an experienced car accident lawyer so they can start building a defense for you. 

Steps to Take if You’re the Victim of a Hit-And-Run

If you’ve been in a hit-and-run accident where the other driver fled the scene, here are a few important tips. 

Firstly, try your best to get any information you can on the vehicle, including the plate number, the car model, color, etc. 

Once you have checked yourself and others for injuries, called for assistance, and gotten to a safe location off the road, take note of the time, the weather conditions, the location, etc. 

If you can, take pictures of any injuries and damage to your vehicle. 

If there are any passersby or eyewitnesses present, ask for their contact details. They could be a valuable source of evidence for your case.

You will also need to alert the authorities and file a police report as quickly as possible. Police reports are a crucial piece of evidence in auto accident cases. Highway patrol might also be able to track down the runaway driver. 

These post-accident steps apply to any auto accident, but they are especially critical after a hit-and-run.

We would also strongly advise you to seek legal representation. Proving that a runaway driver is guilty is not something you should tackle on your own. 

Whether your case has to go to court, or you only have to deal with the insurance company, you must have competent legal help on your side. 

We’d also advise that you talk to your attorney before dealing with your insurance carrier. Insurance companies might market themselves as being there to help, but when the rubber meets the road, their bottom line is not going to grow unless they pay out claimants the minimum amount possible. 

Insurance and Hit-And-Run Accidents

If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run auto accident in California, and you can’t track down the other driver, you will need to turn to your own insurance to cover the costs. 

Unfortunately, your options are limited to claiming under uninsured motorist insurance or collision coverage (if you have it). 

Uninsured motorist coverage does extend to hit-and-run accidents, but it only covers injuries. Under California law, you can’t use it to cover the costs of repairs or replacing your vehicle after a hit-and-run. 

Do You Need Legal Representation After a Hit-And-Run?

Leaving the scene of an accident can trigger serious charges. If someone was injured or killed, the runaway driver could receive felony charges. Past criminal records can also play a role in how hit-and-runs are charged. 

A fine of between $1,000 and $10,000 can also apply, and the driver may have to pay restitution for property damage and injuries. 

Have you been involved in a hit-and-run accident? If so, one of the first things to do is hire a car accident lawyer you can trust. 

Here at Sweet Lawyers, we specialize in car accident cases. Not only do we have a 98% success rate, but we also do more than help you win your case. We aim to maximize your recovery by giving you peace of mind and assuring you a better future. 

We know that a lot of car accident victims can’t afford expensive retainers. This is why we work on a contingency fee basis. You pay nothing unless we win. 

Hit-and-run accidents are more common than they should be. Learn about the potential charges for leaving the scene of an accident in California.Contact us today to book a free consultation. 

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