The sudden impact of a hit and run accident, followed by the realization that the responsible driver has fled the scene, leaves one feeling shocked, frightened, and bewildered.

Hit and run incidents are treated as serious offenses, particularly when they result in fatal outcomes. In Florida, the law imposes strict penalties on those who leave the scene of an accident. 

The gravity of these penalties varies and is influenced by several factors, including the accident’s severity, whether anyone was injured, and any egregious negligence.

Navigating the complexities of hit and run offenses is complex and challenging. Attempting to understand the legal intricacies on your own can be daunting. Engaging in this process without professional guidance can result in significant financial losses, including foregone compensation that could have been crucial for recovery and rehabilitation.

The short answer to whether you need a lawyer for a hit and run is yes.

Let’s dive into this explanation a little deeper.

What Is a Hit and Run Accident?

Experience Lawyer for Car Accident

A hit and run accident is any incident in which a driver collides with another vehicle, pedestrian, cyclist, or property and fails to stop and identify themself, as required by law. The law and punish this criminal offense.

Drivers have certain obligations in Florida, including stopping immediately at the scene, rendering aid for any injuries (such as calling emergency services), and exchanging information, such as names, contact details, and insurance information

with the other party or parties involved.

Hit and run accidents can vary in severity, from minor fender benders with no injuries to severe crashes resulting in significant property damage, bodily injury, or even fatalities. 

What Causes Hit and Run Accidents?

The most common reasons drivers commit hit and run offenses include:

  1. Fear of Legal Consequences: Drivers may fear the repercussions of their actions, especially if they believe they might be at fault. This fear can lead to panic and a split-second decision to flee the scene to avoid potential fines, legal penalties, or incarceration.
  2. Lack of Insurance: A driver without valid auto insurance might leave the scene to avoid the financial and legal penalties associated with being uninsured.
  3. Intoxication: Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs often flee to avoid arrest and charges for DUI (driving under the influence). They may fear the additional legal complications and severe penalties that come with DUI offenses.
  4. Outstanding Warrants or Illegal Activities: Individuals with outstanding warrants for their arrest or those involved in illegal activities might leave an accident scene to avoid interaction with law enforcement that could lead to their arrest for other reasons.
  5. Unlicensed Drivers: Those driving without a valid driver’s license, whether due to age, suspension, or revocation, often flee to avoid penalties associated with driving illegally.
  6. Fear of Increased Insurance Premiums: Some drivers might leave the scene to avoid the insurance claims process and potential hikes in their insurance rates.
  7. Panic or Confusion: In some cases, the immediate shock and confusion following an accident can lead to a panic response, causing a driver to flee without fully understanding the implications of their actions.
  8. Indifference or Lack of Awareness: A few drivers might leave an accident scene out of sheer indifference to the consequences or a lack of awareness that they were involved in an accident, especially in minor collisions.

While varied, these reasons contribute to committing a hit and run act with severe legal and moral consequences.

Regardless of the reason, leaving the scene of an accident without fulfilling legal obligations exacerbates the driver’s legal troubles and adds to the challenges faced by the victims in obtaining compensation for damages and injuries.

What Are the Penalties for Hit and Run Accidents in St Pete?

In Florida, the penalties for committing a hit and run offense, officially known as leaving the scene of an accident, vary based on the severity of the incident, particularly the extent of property damage or bodily injury involved. 

The Florida Statutes outline the consequences as follows:

  • Property Damage: If the accident results in property damage only, the offense is considered a second-degree misdemeanor. The punishment can include up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
  • Bodily Injury: If the accident results in physical injury to another person, the offense becomes a third-degree felony. The penalties can include up to 5 years in prison, five years of probation, and a fine of up to $5,000. The court must also revoke the driver’s license of the individual convicted.
  • Serious Bodily Injury: If the accident results in serious bodily injury to another, the offense is a second-degree felony. The penalties include up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000. The definition of “serious bodily injury” involves injuries that pose a substantial risk of death, disfigurement, or prolonged loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ.
  • Death: If the accident results in the death of any person, the offense becomes a first-degree felony under the Florida statute for leaving the scene of an accident with death. 

The penalties include a minimum mandatory sentence of four years in prison, possibly up to 30 years in prison, 30 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000. 

The driver’s license revocation period is a minimum of three years, and the convicted individual is also required to complete a driver education course on the responsibilities of drivers in accidents involving injuries or death.

These penalties can be compounded by other charges related to the accident, such as DUI charges if the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

The penalties imposed vary depending on the circumstances of the case, the individual’s criminal history, and other factors the court considers.

What Damages Can You Claim from a Hit and Run Accident?

After a hit and run accident, victims may face a multitude of challenges, ranging from physical injuries to emotional distress and financial burdens. 

Fortunately, the legal system allows victims to claim compensation for damages incurred due to the accident. 

Understanding these damages is crucial for victims seeking to recover losses and rebuild their lives. 

Here are the primary damages you can claim from a hit and run:

  1. Medical Expenses: One of the most immediate concerns following a hit and run is the cost of medical care. Victims can claim compensation for all medical-related expenses, including emergency room visits, hospitalization, surgeries, medication, rehabilitation, and ongoing medical treatments. Victims can also claim future medical expenses if the injuries require long-term or lifelong medical care.
  2. Lost Wages and Earning Capacity: If injuries from the hit and run prevent the victim from working, they can claim compensation for lost wages, including the loss of income from the time of injury to the point of recovery. If the injuries result in a decreased ability to earn in the future, victims can also claim for loss of earning capacity, considering factors such as career trajectory, age, and skills.
  3. Property Damage: Property damage claims cover repairing or replacing damaged property, most commonly the victim’s vehicle. Compensation can also cover personal items damaged in the accident, such as cell phones, laptops, or glasses.
  4. Pain and Suffering: This non-economic damage compensates victims for the physical pain and emotional distress suffered as a result of the accident. Calculating pain and suffering can be complex, as it involves subjective assessments of the victim’s anguish, including depression, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life, and other psychological effects. An experienced lawyer can help calculate this damage claim correctly. 
  5. Punitive Damages: In cases where the conduct of the hit and run driver is especially reckless or egregious, courts may award punitive damages to compensate the victim, punish the wrongdoer, and deter similar conduct in the future. However, punitive damages are not available in all cases and are subject to specific legal standards.
  6. Wrongful Death and Survivor’s Claims: If a hit and run accident results in death, the victim’s family or estate may file a wrongful death claim. This can include compensation for funeral and burial expenses, loss of the deceased’s expected earnings, loss of companionship, and emotional distress of the survivors.

To claim these damages, victims of hit and run accidents must navigate complex legal processes that often involve dealing with insurance companies, law enforcement, and potentially the courts. Documentation and evidence are critical, including medical records, police reports, witness statements, and proof of income loss.

The specifics of what victims can claim vary significantly by jurisdiction. Victims are strongly encouraged to consult with legal professionals to ensure they fully understand their rights and the compensation to which they may be entitled. 

How Can a Lawyer Help a Hit and Run Victim?

SeanCarlo Lopez, Esq. St. Petersburg Car Accident Lawyer
SeanCarlo Lopez, Esq, Car Accident Attorney in St. Petersburg

Lawyers assist victims of hit and run accidents by guiding them through the post-accident steps and fighting for their rights to get the money they deserve. Their deep understanding and active approach provide crucial help in various ways.

They guide victims through the legal maze, provide knowledgeable advice, and work tirelessly to ensure that justice is served and that victims receive the compensation they deserve for their injuries, damages, and losses. 

  1. Legal Guidance and Representation: Lawyers provide crucial legal advice tailored to the specifics of a hit and run case. They help victims understand their rights, the legal process, and available options. This guidance is monumental in complex cases or when dealing with uncooperative insurance companies.
  2. Investigation and Evidence Gathering: Attorneys often have the resources and networks to conduct thorough investigations into the accident. They can gather crucial evidence to support the case, including traffic camera footage, witness statements, and accident scene analyses, which might help identify the hit and run driver or establish the facts.
  3. Dealing with Insurance Companies: Lawyers are skilled in negotiating with insurance companies, which can be particularly challenging in hit and run cases. They ensure that insurance providers fulfill their obligations under the victim’s policy, especially under uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, and strive to secure a fair settlement that covers all damages.
  4. Calculating Damages: Accurately calculating damages in a hit and run case involves considering current and future medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and sometimes punitive damages. Lawyers help quantify these damages to ensure victims receive full compensation for their losses.
  5. Filing Lawsuits and Litigation: If a fair settlement cannot be reached through negotiation, lawyers are prepared to file a lawsuit and represent the victim in court. They manage all aspects of the litigation process, from filing the necessary documents to representing the victim in hearings and trials.
  6. Advocacy and Support: Beyond their legal duties, lawyers often provide emotional support and advocacy for hit and run victims. They can guide victims through the complexities of the legal system with empathy and understanding, offering reassurance during stressful and difficult times.
  7. Securing Compensation: Lawyers working with hit and run victims secure compensation that adequately covers their physical, emotional, and financial damages, including negotiating settlements or winning court awards that address medical costs, rehabilitation, lost income, and other accident impacts.
  8. Navigating Legal Deadlines: Personal injury cases, including hit and run accidents, are subject to statutes of limitations, which set deadlines for filing claims. Lawyers ensure that all necessary actions are taken promptly to meet these deadlines, preventing victims from losing their claim rights due to procedural errors.

Leveraging their legal experience, negotiating skills, and understanding of the insurance landscape allows lawyers to significantly increase hit and run victims’ chances of receiving the justice and compensation they deserve. 

A lawyer’s support allows victims to focus on recovery while handling the legal process’s complexities.