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Jeff Sevey

A hit and run accident is any accident where a driver intentionally leaves the scene after the accident has occurred without leaving any contact information. Some examples of a hit and run accident would be if you hit a parked car, but leave the parking lot without trying to find the owner, or leaving a note, or hitting a pedestrian at night without stopping to check for injuries or calling the police.

It is the law in California that any driver involved in an accident must stay at the scene of the accident, even if that accident was not your fault. It doesn’t matter if you’ve hit a car, a pedestrian, or even someone’s personal property, such as a mailbox. Of course, there are exceptions, but in most cases, and especially where injuries are severe, a driver leaving the scene of an accident is considered a crime in the state of California, and penalties are severe.

California laws are especially hard on hit and run drivers. In the case of a hit and run where property damage has occurred, the driver could be charged with a misdemeanor. If a person is injured or dies in the hit and run accident, the driver then faces felony charges.

Hit and run accidents present a significant problem in California, especially in and around the Los Angeles area. LAPD reports about 20,000 such accidents each year. The California Highway Patrol reports the following statistics state-wide:

  • Approximately 11% of all crashes reported to police involve a hit and run driver.
  • About 1500 people are killed yearly in hit and run accidents.
  • About 60% of the victims of hit and run accidents are pedestrians.
  • Nearly 20% of pedestrian deaths are due to hit and run accidents.
  • 10% of all fatal accidents are hit and run accidents.

There are certain duties, or responsibilities, you must perform if you have been involved in an accident. You are required to perform the following actions at the scene of an accident:

  1. Immediately stop at the scene of the accident.
  2. If property damage has occurred, immediately provide the owner of the property with your name and address, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle you were driving, if you do not own the vehicle. If this information cannot be provided immediately to the owner of the damaged property (in the case of, say, hitting a parked car where the owner is not present), a written note must be left in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or property damaged, including a phone number where the defendant can be reached. Additional information to be included are driver’s license number, vehicle identification number, and insurance policy information. Failing to exchange this information could lead to a fine of $250, and a ticket.
  3. Immediately notify the police department in the city where the accident occurred, or the California highway patrol.
  4. Keep in mind that these duties must be performed no matter who was injured, who was at fault, or why the accident happened. It also does not matter what type of property was damaged in the accident, i.e. fence, gate, vehicle, pet, or mailbox.

Punishments for Leaving the Scene of an Accident in California

The following information outlines the charges, and the penalties, of various potential hit and run accident situations:

Property Damage

A hit and run accident causing only property damage will result in a misdemeanor conviction, and:

  • Up to a six month jail sentence;
  • Up to a $1000 fine;
  • Both imprisonment and fine.

Personal Injury

A hit and run accident causing injury to anyone other than yourself is known as a “wobbler”, meaning that you can be charged with either a misdemeanor OR a felony, depending on how serious the injuries were, and the status of your criminal record.

A misdemeanor conviction will result in:

  • Jail sentence up to one year;
  • Fine of $1000 to $10,000;
  • Both imprisonment and fine.

A felony conviction will result in:

  • Jail sentence of up to three years;
  • Fine of $1000 to $10,000;
  • Both imprisonment and fine.

Severe Bodily Injury or Death

A hit and run accident that results in severe bodily injury or death to others may also be considered a wobbler. Because this crime is much more serious in nature, so too are the penalties.

A misdemeanor conviction will result in:

  • Jail sentence from 90 days to one year;
  • Fine of $1000 to $10,000;
  • Both imprisonment and fine.
  • Court may reduce or eliminate altogether the mandatory minimum 90-day sentence.

A felony conviction will result in:

  • A two, three, or four year prison sentence;
  • Fine of $1000 to $10,000;
  • Both imprisonment and fine.

Leaving the scene of an accident after committing vehicular manslaughter can result in an additional consecutive five year prison sentence.

Additional penalties that can be administered after any hit and run conviction include:

  • A minimum of two points on your driving record. (Four points in a 12-month period, and you’ll have an automatic minimum of six-months driver’s license suspension.)
  • Increase in car insurance premiums, or cancellation of your policy.
  • A lawsuit brought against you by the owner of the damaged property, and payment of any damages that your insurance policy does not cover, as well as legal fees and court costs.
  • A lawsuit brought against you by any individual injured in the accident that you are found to be at fault for.
  • In the event that the hit and run accident has caused a fatality, in addition to any other criminal punishments, you may be sued in civil court for wrongful death, which can result in your being responsible for enormous monetary damages.

As you can see, hit and run accidents are no laughing matter. If you’ve been involved in a hit and run accident, you might be afraid of the consequences. But there are various defenses for hit and run accidents that our firm may be able to assist you with.

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