Definition of Leaving the Scene / Hit and Run

In Florida, Leaving the Scene of an Accident, or “hit and run,” is defined as the failure of a driver to remain at the site of a vehicle crash and fulfill other statutory duties, when the crash at issue involves death, bodily injury, or property damage.

Statutory Duties: Property Damage

For accidents involving only property damage to another vehicle or object, a driver has the following duties under Florida law:

  • Immediately stop his or her vehicle at the scene of the crash or as close thereto as possible;
  • Notify the operator or owner of the vehicle or other property of the driver’s name, address, registration number;
  • Exhibit his or her driver’s license, if requested by the other party;
  • Provide license, registration, address, and other information to any investigating police officers;
  • If the property damaged in the crash is unattended, the driver must either locate the property owner (and then comply with the duties described above) or attach securely in a conspicuous place in or on the vehicle or other property a written notice giving the driver’s name and address and the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving. The driver must then notify the nearest police department or law enforcement agency of the crash.

Statutory Duties: Bodily Injury or Death

With regard to accidents causing injury or death to another person, a driver’s statutory duties in Florida are as follows:

  • The driver must stop his or her vehicle at the scene of the crash (or as close thereto as possible);
  • Give his or her name, address, and vehicle registration number to the other driver;
  • Exhibit his or her license or permit to drive, if requested;
  • Provide license, registration, address, and other information to any investigating police officers;
  • If it is apparent that medical treatment is required or if it is requested by the other person, render “reasonable assistance,” including carrying or making arrangement for the carrying of the person to a hospital, physician, or surgeon for medical or surgical treatment;
  • If the other driver or person is not in a condition to receive the information specified above, the non-injured driver must report the crash to the nearest police authority.

Required Proof

To prove the crime of Leaving the Scene of An Accident or Crash at trial, the State of Florida must establish the following four factual elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant was the driver of a vehicle involved in a crash resulting in injury to or death of any person, or resulting in property damage to another person;
  2. The defendant knew or should have known that he or she was involved in a crash;
  3. The defendant knew or should have known of the injury to or death of the other person, or of the property damage caused to another;
  4. The defendant willfully failed to stop at the scene of the crash, or as close to the crash as possible, and failed to remain there until he or she had given identifying information to the other driver, occupant, person attending vehicle, or investigating police officer, or the defendant failed to render “reasonable assistance” to the injured person if such treatment appeared to be necessary or was requested by the injured person.

The term “identifying information” means the defendant’s name, address, vehicle registration number, and, if available and requested, the exhibition of a driver’s license or permit. The term willfully” means purposefully and intentionally.

Penalties for Leaving the Scene

In Florida, the penalties available for leaving the scene of an accident (hit and run) will depend on the nature of the harm or damage caused by the crash.

Accidents Involving Injury

If the crash at issue involved personal injuries to another person, the offense is classified as a third degree felony, with penalties of up to 5 years in prison or 5 years of probation, and a $5,000 fine.

Accidents Involving Death

For accidents involving the death of the other person, the offense will be classified as a first degree felony, with penalties of up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

If the defendant leaves the scene involving injury or death and the defendant is found to have been driving under the influence, the offense is subject to mandatory minimum prison term of 2 years. In all leaving the scene cases involving death or injury, the offending driver is also subject mandatory driver’s license revocation as determined by the court.

Accidents Involving Property

A hit and run involving only property damage is classified as a second degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Availability of Restitution

Contrary to the beliefs of many prosecutors, restitution (compensation for loss) is generally not available to the other driver or property owner in a Leaving the Scene of an Accident case.

Under Florida law, restitution is awardable to a victim in criminal cases where a defendant’s conduct directly or indirectly contributes to a loss suffered by the victim.  Glaubius v. State, 688 So. 2d 913, 915 (Fla. 1997).  It is the causal connection between the criminal act and the harm suffered by the victim which brings about an entitlement to restitutionary relief. Id.

With a hit and run, however, the criminal conduct at issue does not generally cause the loss to the victim.  The accident causes all or most of the loss, and it is only after the loss is suffered that the criminal conduct occurs (failing to remain at the scene).  There is no causal connection to the loss because “the damages arising out of the accident would have occurred with or without [the defendant] committing the offense of leaving the scene of an accident.” State v. Williams, 520 So. 2d 276 (Fla. 1988).

Following this logic, Florida appellate courts have consistently denied restitution as a proper award in hit and run cases.  See Fykes v. State, 599 So. 2d 268 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992); Triplette v. State, 709 So. 2d 107 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998); Longshore v. State, 655 So. 2d 1139 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995).

However, if there is any evidence in the record showing that the victim’s injuries were exacerbated by the lack of immediate assistance due to the defendant failing to remain at the scene, restitution may be awarded to such an extent.  Triplette, 709 So. 2d at 108.

Defenses to Leaving the Scene

There are many defenses and strategies available to contest a charge of Leaving the Scene of an Accident, or to minimize the potential consequences.  Some of the more common defenses include the following:

  1. Disputes as to the identity of the driver;
  2. Lack of knowledge that a crash occurred;
  3. Lack of knowledge that an impact occurred with persons or property;
  4. The failure to stop was not willful, but was dictated by circumstances;
  5. The defendant stopped as close as possible to the site of the accident;
  6. The other driver refused to receive identifying information
  7. The other driver became belligerent, necessitating that the defendant leave the scene to call police;
  8. The assistance rendered was ‘reasonable’ within the meaning of the statute.

Even in the absence of a viable defense, a Leaving the Scene of an Accident charge need not always result in a conviction.  In many misdemeanor cases, an attorney can often make early contact with the prosecution to negotiate a more lenient resolution to a case, one that avoids jail, probation, and a permanent criminal record.

Case Example- Hit and Run

State vs. E.G. (Fourth Judicial Circuit, Duval County) (2014)- Our client was charged with leaving the scene of an accident (property damage) after grazing the front bumper of another vehicle that was illegally parked.  The incident occurred as our client was leaving a restaurant with his wife, two children, and his parents.  Upon striking the other car, he immediately exited his vehicle and offered to exchange information with the driver.

The other driver was highly belligerent, cursed in front of the children, and repeatedly asked our client “what do you want to do for me right now?”  When our client replied that he was not prepared to pay money on the spot, the other driver responded “get out of here.”  Our client then left the scene, only to later receive a phone call from police regarding an alleged hit and run.

Upon being retained in the case, our attorneys gathered affidavits from several witnesses and made early contact with the prosecutor to explain the circumstances surrounding the incident. The State Attorney’s Office agreed that our client did not have the requisite intent, and dropped the case at arraignment.

Outcome: All charges dropped.

Leaving the Scene_14CT010758_Dismissal

Importance of an Attorney

In all leaving the scene cases, the hiring of an attorney is a critically important step to minimize or avoid potential penalties.  In the investigative stages of a case, an attorney can make contact with police, prevent a client from making damaging statements, and present the facts of an incident in the most favorable light possible.

If charges are pursued, an attorney can make early contact with the prosecutor in order to present defenses or negotiate for a more lenient resolution to a case.  Where the prosecution refuses to negotiate, an attorney will ensure that all legal options and defenses are pursued or raised in the litigation that follows.

If you have been accused of Leaving the Scene of an Accident in Jacksonville, Duval County, Clay County, St. Johns County, or Nassau County, Florida, contact Hussein & Webber, PL for a free consultation.