Being hit by another driver can be one of the most traumatic, frustrating experiences of your life. That anxiety is multiplied exponentially if the person that hit you flees the crash scene, leaving you wondering if the person will be caught or if you will ever get the insurance information you need.
A recent story in the Fort Myers News-Press said there had been 231 reported hit-and-run crashes in Lee County from January 1st to February 16th, 2020. And that was just as reported to one agency, the Lee County Sheriff's Department. The number is higher when you include all Lee County law enforcement agencies.
Leaving the scene of a crash is illegal and may result in criminal charges against the driver who left, if they can be located. The severity of those charges is increased if there were serious injuries or a fatality resulting from the crash.
Why Do People Leave the Scene Following a Crash?
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why an at-fault driver decides to run after causing a crash.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The driver may be drunk or high, and think that the police are going to find out if they stay at the scene.
- Driving without a license. In many hit-and-run crashes, it is later determined that the at-fault driver was driving on a suspended or revoked license, or may have never had any driver's license at all.
- Driving without Insurance. A staggering 26% of drivers in Florida are getting behind the wheel without adequate insurance coverage or with no insurance at all.
- Immigration status. An undocumented immigrant may not have proper legal status to be in this country and may flee so as not to face the legal consequences up to and including deportation.
In several very high profile recent hit-and-run crashes in Lee County, the driver hit and killed pedestrians. Two separate crashes resulted in the deaths of two young girls – one who was sitting along the side of the road waiting for the school bus, and another who was walking along the shoulder of the road with friends.
In a case where the driver fled the scene after hitting a little girl waiting for the bus, the driver was sentenced as a “youthful offender,” and received a two-year prison sentence, two years of house arrest followed by two years of probation. He will also have his driver's license suspended for a year and will be required to perform 120 hours of some type of community service.
Another driver has been arrested and accused of hitting a 14-year old student in North Fort Myers as she was walking along the side of the road. The driver pleaded not guilty to the charges on February 17th and remains held in the Lee County jail on $75,000 bond. She will next appear in court for a case management conference on April 1st.
Local media has reported that the mother of that victim was angry that the accused driver pleaded not guilty, seemingly not admitting any responsibility for the death. There were witnesses to the crash who claim the driver's SUV was the one that hit the girl, and their testimony helped authorities find the vehicle.
What are the Penalties for Leaving the Scene of a Crash?
There are two factors that should compel people to stay at the crash scene and not take off – one of course is a moral decision, and the other is possible criminal charges.
In a perfect world, a driver involved in a crash – no matter whose fault it was – would remain at the scene to determine if there are any serious injuries, and to render help if possible. And not only because it's the right thing to do, but it's also the law in Florida. Secondly, someone who flees the scene of a crash will be facing additional criminal charges in addition to any traffic citations applicable for the crash itself.
Leaving the scene initiates a criminal investigation. When the driver is caught – and thanks to exceptional police work, they're almost always caught – they'll be looking at some potentially very serious charges.
If the crash involved only damage to the vehicles and no injuries, the driver may be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, serve up to 60 days in jail and pay a $500.00 fine. If the person who fled the scene of a crash involving injuries is caught, they'll likely be charged with a second or third degree felony and a prison sentence of up to five years, revocation of their driver's license for a minimum of three years, and a $5,000 fine. A crash involving a fatality will result in a first-degree felony, a prison sentence of between four to thirty years, a $10,000 fine and license revocation for a minimum of three years.
Prior to 2014, there were no statutory mandatory sentencing guidelines for hit-and-run drivers. In 2014, the Florida Senate passed what is called the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, named after a bicyclist in Miami that was killed by a drunk driver who fled the scene. The Act calls for a driver convicted of causing a fatality and leaving the crash scene to receive a minimum four-year prison sentence.
In Cohen's case, fleeing the scene meant that law enforcement was unable to prove that the driver that hit him was under the influence, so he was sentenced to just two years in prison. Cohen's wife and many other bicycle safety advocates fought for two years to get this new law onto the books.
Hit-and-Runs Often Involve Pedestrians, Cyclists
In Lee County as well as throughout the country, hit-and-run crashes often involve someone on foot or riding a bicycle. People accused of hitting a pedestrian often to claim that they did not realize they had hit anything, or that they thought they had hit something like a garbage can, mailbox or some other inanimate object.
In some cases, a hit-and-run driver may initially flee the scene, but then have second thoughts and return.
If you're the victim of a hit-and-run driver, there are some things you can do to help relieve some of the stress you'll be going through.
It may be very difficult, but you should try to remember as much as you possibly can about the vehicle that struck you. Assuming you were in your vehicle and the impact did not cause you a debilitating injury, try to make note of the other car's license plate number to give to the responding police officers. Any other details you can recall, like the car's color, type of vehicle like a car, van or pick-up truck, which direction they took off and any other details could be critical in finding the at-fault driver.
There are also may be witnesses to the event that can play a critical role in bringing the offending driver to justice. If at all physically possible, try to get statements from them about what happened, and also their contact information so your personal injury attorney can contact them to get their official statements regarding the crash. Thankfully, most people are willing to stay on the crash scene and tell the responding law enforcement agency what they saw, mainly because they realize they would be appreciative of the same thing had it been them involved in the crash.
You should also check any neighboring homes or businesses to see if there are video cameras that may have captured the crash. In one of the cases we mentioned earlier where the young girl was sitting alongside the road waiting for the school bus, video from Ring doorbells near the scene were critical in identifying the suspect driver.
Who Pays for my Medical Care if the Other Driver Can't Be Found?
In Florida, each licensed driver is required by law to carry a minimum of Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, coverage in the amount of $10,000. Florida is what is known as a ‘no fault' state, which means that your insurance company should pay for your medical care up to the $10,000 policy limit. The problem is, even a seemingly insignificant injury can end up costing more than that for treatment.
If you were lucky enough to have purchased Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage, (UM), you stand a much better chance to obtain financial compensation for your injuries. But remember – even though you may have a UM policy in place at the time of the crash, it still may be difficult to get adequately compensated for your injuries without the help of a skilled and experienced personal injury attorney.
Attorney Logan Goldberg spent two years as an Assistant Prosecutor in the State Attorney's Office prior to coming to the Goldberg Noone Abraham law firm. His unique perspective on hit-and-run crashes and the differences between criminal and civil ramifications gives him added insight into what being involved in one can mean for the victims.
“In my experience with hit-and-runs, most of the time, the fleeing driver would have never faced criminal charges had it not been for them leaving the scene,” says Goldberg. “In circumstances where an intoxicated driver was involved in a crash, the consequences are sometimes mitigated if they stay on the scene rather than flee. I have seen the consequences of hit-and-runs, most in the legal field and some that have affected me personally and the end results are never what they should have been had the driver taken responsibility for their actions. I am proud to help and represent victims of these types of crashes and will do my best to assure that they receive justice.”
Don't Wait to Get Answers to Your Hit-And-Run Crash Questions
One phone call is all it takes to get the answers you'll need if you're ever in the unfortunate circumstance of being struck by someone who flees the scene, whether you're in your car, on foot or on a bicycle. Our attorneys are available for a free, no obligation consultation to discuss your specific circumstances, and determine if we can help.
Calling Goldberg Noone Abraham at 239-461-5508 can be your best decision in order to obtain the money you deserve under Florida law to make your best effort to get your life back on track.