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Leaving the Scene of an Accident in Florida

In Florida, if a person is involved in a traffic accident that results in property damage, an injury to someone or a death, that person must remain at the scene and provide the proper identification and insurance information. Failure to do so is a crime, referred to as leaving the scene of a crash or hit and run. If the accident merely results in property damage to the other vehicle, leaving the scene is a misdemeanor crime. However, if another person is injured as a result of the crash, leaving the scene of the accident is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. If someone dies as a result of the accident, leaving the scene is a first degree felony punishable by up to thirty years in prison.

What constitutes a crash after which the driver must remain at the scene is usually straightforward- any crash with any property damage, injury or death. But what happens when a person is injured or dies without an actual crash?

In a recent hit and run case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was driving when somehow his passenger got separated from the vehicle, struck the road and died. The defendant kept on driving. The defendant was ultimately arrested and charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving death. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss arguing that there was no “crash” under the criminal statute because there was no evidence that the car crashed into the victim. The terms “involved” and “crash” are not defined in the criminal statute, and the criminal defense attorney made the clever argument that a person exiting a vehicle without making contact with it is not being “involved” in a “crash.”

The trial court agreed with the criminal defense lawyer and dismissed the leaving the scene of a crash involving death charge. However, on appeal, the trial court’s decision was reversed. The appellate court noted a prior case where a driver swerved and caused another vehicle to run off the road and overturn. There was no actual collision of vehicles, but this was considered being involved in a crash under the criminal statute because this situation clearly fell within the purpose of the statute which is to determine who causes a crash and why when someone is injured or property is damaged. The idea, of course, is that when someone is involved in a serious crash and flees, that person has something to hide, whether he/she is intoxicated, has a suspended license, is uninsured, has an outstanding warrant or has some other legal issue.

The appellate court interpreted being “involved in a crash” as to not require an actual collision with a vehicle. It is still not clear exactly what being involved in a crash means for the purpose of the criminal statute. However, the courts will likely take a common sense approach so that if a person is driving and is involved in a situation where another vehicle is damaged or another person is injured or killed, that driver needs to stop and provide his/her information to the other driver and/or wait for police.