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What are the Consequences of Leaving the Scene of an Accident?

By: Anapol Weiss

Leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident can be an expensive and life-altering mistake. When accidents happen, it can be confusing and traumatic. Adrenaline rushes through your system, your heart races, your pupils dilate, and your body’s “fight or flight” response is engaged in response to a surprising and dangerous circumstance. In the heat of the moment, your judgment can be compromised, but you should never leave an accident scene if it can be avoided.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident

It’s important to understand what constitutes leaving the scene. Sometimes referred to as a “hit and run”, you’ve left the scene when you purposefully leave the area of an accident without making an attempt to wait for the proper authorities, exchange insurance information with the other party, or attempt to locate or contact the other party in a situation where you struck an unattended or unoccupied object when you knew or should have known that an impact occurred.

Moving your vehicle out of traffic or to an adjacent safer location in the event of a non-injury, non-fatality accident is not leaving the scene. When an accident happens, once you’ve ensured there are no injuries, there is no law against moving your vehicle a short distance to a safer location if doing so does not jeopardize you or anyone else. This can include pulling onto the shoulder, around a corner off the main road, or into a nearby parking lot. Do this in a slow and controlled manner after advising the other party if possible, that way there’s not even the appearance of you leaving the scene of an accident.

Is Leaving the Scene of an Accident a Crime?

Yes. Leaving the scene of an accident is against the law and you may be subject to criminal penalties. Those penalties, however, can vary depending on the severity of the accident.

  • If the other vehicle was unoccupied or damage was done to an inanimate object injuring no one, leaving is considered a summary offense, or less in severity than a misdemeanor, and you can be fined up to $300 and sentenced to 90-days in jail.

  • If someone is in the vehicle and you leave the scene, it is considered a first-degree misdemeanor, and you’re subject to a fine of up to $2500 and a year in prison.

  • Leaving the scene of an accident resulting in an injury is a third-degree felony and carries a minimum fine of $1000 and a mandatory 90-day jail sentence that can be increased up to 7 years.

  • Running from a fatality accident is also a third-degree felony, carrying a minimum $2500 fine and a year in prison, but that time can also be extended to 7 years.

These penalties are solely for the crime of leaving the scene, if other crimes occur, such as driving under the influence, reckless endangerment, or fleeing from a law enforcement officer, they can be prosecuted as well. Likewise, in addition to the fines for leaving the scene of an accident, you may have to pay damages to the victim, including a personal injury claim with pain and suffering damages.

What To Do After An Accident

Once the accident occurs, your decisions can impact not only your health but your freedom. Stop immediately and do not do anything that could be construed as leaving the scene of an accident. If you’ve already left the scene of an accident and need to know, “what do I do now?” start with the following steps as well.

Ensure That Everyone Is Uninjured

Check if anyone in your vehicle has been injured. Then, check on bystanders. If injuries or a fatality have occurred, turn off your vehicle and do not move it. The police will need to gather additional evidence that moving your vehicle may obscure.

Make Sure You Are Safe

If possible, move the vehicles under their own power out of traffic. If not, set up hazard triangles to warn traffic of the stopped vehicles. Drivers may have limited reaction time, so be sure to keep yourself and all other pedestrians out of traffic.

Exchange insurance information

Swap your vehicle insurance information with the other party. If the other vehicle or property is unattended, you must make an attempt to locate or contact the owner, otherwise, you may be considered to be leaving the scene of an accident. If no owner can be located and no law enforcement is available to make a report, leave your insurance information and a note with contact information in a conspicuous place on the property.

Take Pictures

Remaining out of traffic, take pictures of your vehicle, the property hit, road conditions, skid marks, any hazards or obstructions, and anything else you believe may be pertinent to the accident to pursue or defend against a claim.

I Left the Scene of an Accident–What Do I Do?

You should never leave the scene of an accident, but if you already have, that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. First, it’s important to understand that in today’s always-connected environment it is likely that a photo or video of you or your vehicle exists in relation to the accident. Your cell phone history will place you in the area. A citation may be sent to you in the mail or a warrant may even be issued for your arrest.

It is always better to cooperate with law enforcement–proactively when possible. If you’ve left the scene of an accident, it’s important to remedy the situation by contacting your attorney who will advise you to notify the authorities. While you may still be charged with leaving the scene, a judge or jury is often more likely to have a favorable view of a defendant who has owned up to their responsibilities and turned themselves in.

Whether you’ve been accused of leaving the scene of an accident, need help defending yourself from a personal injury claim, or have a claim to file on your behalf, our experienced attorneys are ready to help you. With decades of legal experience, our Philadelphia lawyers are ready to talk to you about the specifics of your case in a free consultation and go to work for you in and out of court to protect your rights. Contact Anapol Weiss and make your case our cause today.