Is Leaving the Scene of an Accident a Criminal Charge in Pennsylvania?
Car accidents are always regrettable, but they are usually not too big of an issue and can often be resolved without the involvement of authorities. In spite of that, there are situations where drivers decide not to stay at the scene; sometimes, because they are worried about being caught driving when they should not be or while under the influence.
In these cases, some drivers think leaving is a better option than staying and facing the consequences for causing the crash. However, fleeing the scene – known as a hit-and-run – is actually against the law and a punishable offense.
Hit and Run Laws in Pennsylvania
According to Pennsylvania law (75 Pa. C.S. § 3744), if a driver causes an accident involving injury, property damage, or death, they have a duty to “give information and render aid”. This means the driver must stop their vehicle and provide certain personal details to the other party, such as:
- Name and address
- Vehicle registration number of the vehicle being driven
- Driver’s license and proof of insurance information (upon request)
If the other driver or motorcyclist or pedestrian has been injured, you must call an ambulance or ensure that medical help is on the way if it is apparent that such aid is necessary or if it is requested by the injured person. If necessary, and if it is practical without causing further harm, you may be required to transport the injured victim to a hospital as well. This is what “rendering aid” means.
Do note that you have an obligation to stop after an accident, regardless of whether anyone has been injured or not. If the other motorist or even any passenger in your car has sustained any injuries, or there has been any fatalities or significant damage to a vehicle, you also need to immediately notify the law enforcement officials as per Section 3746.
But what if you hit an unattended car and the owner is not around? Section 3745 clearly states that you must try to locate the owner, but if you cannot, you must leave a note with your information and report the car accident to the police.
Legal Consequences for Leaving the Accident Scene in Pennsylvania
Failing to comply with these laws can result in being charged with a "hit and run," which is a criminal offense in Pennsylvania. If you only damaged someone’s vehicle or other property it is considered a summary offense, which is punishable by fines and points on your driver's license.
If someone was injured or lost their life, and you failed to stop and provide reasonable assistance, the charge can be turned into a second-degree felony. In addition to larger fines and suspension of your license, it can also result in imprisonment.
Here is a quick glance at the penalties for different offenses:
- Damage to an unattended vehicle: After an accident involving property damage to an unattended vehicle, fleeing without sharing your information can lead to up to 90 days in jail and fines up to $300.
- Damage to an attended vehicle: If someone was inside the vehicle (i.e., it was “attended) when you crashed into it, it is considered a third-degree misdemeanor. The maximum penalties can include up to one year in jail and fines up to $2,500.
- Injuries to another driver or passenger: When a hit and run accident results in injury to another person, it escalates to a first-degree misdemeanor, which can mean up to one year in jail and fines up to $2,500.
- Serious bodily injury to another driver or passenger: If the hit and run causes "serious bodily injury," it is classified as a third-degree felony. This is any personal injury that creates a considerable risk of death or causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or loss or impairment of any body part. The mandatory minimum imprisonment is 90 days and the mandatory minimum fine is $1,000.
- Death to another driver or passenger: If the hit and run results in death, it becomes a second-degree felony. The mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for this offense is three years, and the minimum fine is $2,500.
These penalties mostly depend on the circumstances of each case and the driver's previous record. The court has the ultimate discretion.
Duration Within Which Charges Can Be Filed If Someone Leaves the Scene of an Accident
It depends on what the charge is. For summary offenses like hitting an unattended vehicle and failing to provide information, the statute of limitations is generally 30 days from the discovery of the identity of the alleged offender or the completion of the investigation, whichever is longer.
In case of a misdemeanor such as hitting a car and causing damage to it or causing minor injuries to someone inside it and then speeding off, the statute of limitations is longer. The charges must be filed within 2 years of the date of the motor vehicle accident.
The statute of limitations for felony hit and run offenses in Pennsylvania – where the victim suffered serious injuries or died – is 5 years from the date of the car crash.
There are some exceptions to these statutes. If the suspect flees the state, the statute may be paused until they return. Remember, the statute of limitations here means the time within which charges must be filed or formal legal proceedings must begin. Once charges are filed within this window, the case can proceed even if the actual trial or resolution happens after the statute has expired.
Get Strong Legal Representation from Our Hit and Run Defense Attorney
To convict someone for a hit-and-run in Pennsylvania, the prosecution has to convincingly show that you left the site where the collision occurred. But if you stayed, our criminal defense lawyers at Very Law will find proof to show this. There are a number of ways we can defend against a hit-and-run charge:
- Someone else might have driven your car from the crash site.
- You did not realize you hit another car, object, or person.
- You left because you were rushing to the hospital for an emergency.
- Your vehicle was not the one involved in the hit-and-run.
Led by Ryan D. Very, a criminal defense attorney known for aggressively defending his clients, we can help protect your rights, freedom and reputation. Give us a call at 412-430-0131 or reach out to us online to schedule a consultation.
Think you may have a case? Let’s talk.