Under Florida law, leaving the scene of an accident, also sometimes referred to as a “hit-and-run,” is a criminal offense.
At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale injury attorneys know there are a number of reasons drivers flee, despite the looming criminal penalties. They may fear getting a DUI – or worse, being convicted of felony DUI manslaughter. They may not have insurance. They may have warrants out for their arrest.
Whatever the reason, it can complicate a civil case if that driver is never found. Typically, that leaves victims to rely heavily on their uninsured motorist coverage, available through their car insurance policy. Sometimes, victims end up tapping into this resource even when the driver is caught, as his or her insurance may not be enough to cover the extent of losses incurred in the crash.
We can also help victims of South Florida hit-and-run accidents to explore liability by the vehicle’s owner and, in some cases, of bars that may have served alcohol to the at-fault driver prior to the crash.
The Florida Highway Patrol reports an increase in the number of fatal hit-and-runs in recent years. Some of the recent findings were:
- From 2013 to 2014, the number of deaths stemming from hit-and-run accidents shot up by 23 percent.
- In 2014, one in every four accidents involved a driver who fled the scene.
- Between 2012 and 2014, there were 236,000 hit-and-run crashes reported in Florida.
- Almost half of all hit-and-run fatalities in 2014 were pedestrians, which was a nearly 20 percent increase from the previous year.
Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties saw the highest numbers of hit-and-run crashes in the state, as well as some of the highest increases.
Responsibilities for drivers involved in a crash resulting vehicle or property damage are outlined in F.S. 316.061. Meanwhile, responsibilities for drivers involved in a crash resulting in injury or death are outlined in F.S. 316.027 .Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
That so many drivers flee the scene of accidents in Florida is due in no small part to the fact this state has the highest percentage of uninsured drivers in the country. The Insurance Research Council reports 24 percent of all drivers in the Sunshine State don’t have insurance.
That’s 1 in every 4 drivers.
Driving without insurance is against the law, and many people don’t want to get caught if they crash without it. In addition to criminal penalties, they know they are likely to be held personally responsible for the cost of any damages.
In these cases, victims must rely on uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM coverage). While such coverage is not mandated in Florida, it usually comes standard with most auto insurance policies, and customers that wish to decline it must do so in writing.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is designed to help injured persons pay bills associated with a crash caused by another driver who either doesn’t have an auto insurance policy (or who has not been located) or who has a policy with liability limits that are too low to cover crash-related losses.
Our South Florida traffic accident attorneys know even with this type of coverage, however, it can be difficult to collect. We negotiate aggressively with insurance companies, and prepare the case to take to trial if necessary. Given the state’s high number of uninsured motorists and the rising risk of a hit-and-run, it’s advisable for drivers to make sure their auto insurance policy has a substantial UM/UIM policy provision.Consequences for Hit-and-Run
Florida lawmakers in 2014 passed the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, which increases criminal penalties for hit-and-run drivers involved in deadly crashes, setting a minimum mandatory prison sentence of four that aligns with that of DUI manslaughter. The goal was to rid drunk drivers of the incentive to flee the crash.
However, there are civil consequences for taking off after a crash resulting in injury or death. Primarily, this will come in the form of punitive damages. Per F.S. 768.72 , punitive damages are designed to punish bad conduct and serve as a warning to others. It is excess of compensatory damages, which are designed to compensate those injured for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.
Punitive damages are rare in accident cases, but they are more common in hit-and-run cases. In order for a plaintiff to receive punitive damages, the court must find defendant acted either with intentional misconduct or gross negligence.
If you have been injured in a Broward County hit-and-run, contact our law firm to discuss your rights.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a South Florida auto accident, contact the personal injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (888) ANSARA-8.