Under Florida law, Leaving the Scene of an Accident is a criminal offense involving a person’s unlawful departure from the site of a motor vehicle crash. A conviction can result in misdemeanor or felony penalties, depending on whether the accident resulted in injury or death.
Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime that comes with harsh penalties in Florida. In fact, a driver who leaves the scene of a fatal traffic accident faces a minimum four-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine if convicted. Even with harsh penalties in place, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) estimates 25 percent of Florida traffic accidents involve a hit and run.
Being involved in a serious traffic collision devastates victims and their families physically, emotionally, and financially. When a careless and negligent driver leaves the scene, it adds insult to injury. Hopefully, law enforcement can track down the driver, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. If you have suffered injuries in hit and run accident in Florida, you might be worrying about who will pay your medical bills and compensate you for all the other losses that accompany a severe accident.
It’s in your best interest to consult with a personal injury attorney after a hit and run accident to discover the right path for your particular circumstances. Below we provide general information about hit and run accidents in Florida, and a broad overview of the options you have to recover losses you have incurred after a hit and run accident in Florida.
Florida Hit and Run Accidents and No-Fault Insurance
If you have registered a vehicle, you know that Florida is a no-fault insurance state that requires drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage. If you have suffered injuries in Florida hit and run accident, filing a claim under your own PIP policy is the first step to recouping some economic losses related to the accident and injuries. PIP insurance helps with minor accident injuries, especially for those who only have minimum coverage, without regard to fault. Whether law enforcement finds the hit and run driver has no bearing on your ability to receive benefits after an accident.
Florida PIP policy benefits pay for 80 percent of necessary medical treatment and 60 percent of lost wages related to the accident and injury. Severe accidents that require hospitalization, surgery, and weeks or more away from work easily meet or exceed PIP policy limits causing hit and run accident victims to incur massive amounts of economic losses. Additionally, PIP policies do not provide benefits for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
Uninsured Motorist (UM) Insurance and Hit and Run Accidents in Florida
The State of Florida does not require those who register a motor vehicle to carry uninsured motorist (UM) insurance. If you have UM coverage, it will likely kick in after a hit and run car accident, if law enforcement cannot identify the driver who struck your vehicle. You will need to file a claim with your insurance carrier under your UM coverage and they will handle it as if it were a bodily injury liability claim. Remember, an insurance company and its representatives are not your friends, even when you are the policyholder. The adjuster will take any steps necessary to devalue your claim and avoid paying. An experienced hit and run accident lawyer communicates with insurance companies to protect clients from their tricks and negotiate the best outcome possible.
Taking Legal Action After a Florida Hit and Run Accident
Florida law allows for accident injury victims to bring a civil lawsuit against those who cause accident and injury. If law enforcement locates the hit and run driver, not only will he or she need to face the criminal consequences of their behavior, but you can sue for damages to recover economic and non-economic losses related to the accident and your injuries. If you reach a settlement or the court rules in your favor if you go to trial, you can recover some or all of the following economic and non-economic losses you’ve suffered from the hit and run accident and associated injuries.
Economic damages are direct financial losses that are easy to quantify. They include:
- Medical expenses beyond what is covered by PIP, such as hospitalization, surgery, followup care, prescription medication, diagnostic imaging, and travel to and from the doctor/hospital
- Future medical expenses when a hit and run accident leads to severe injuries requiring future surgeries and extensive recovery, or a permanent condition or disability requiring indefinite ongoing treatment
- Lost wages beyond what is covered by PIP for time away from work due to the hit and run accident and injuries
- Estimated future lost wages or lost earning capacity when a hit and run accident leads to a catastrophic injury preventing an accident victim from returning to their job or seeking any time of gainful employment in the future
- Other expenses such as the cost of domestic replacement services, costs for making a home more accessible, and rehabilitation expenses for therapy and assistive devices such as wheelchairs, artificial limbs, and crutches
Non-economic damages refer to intangible losses that are difficult to quantify, and often the source of disagreement concerning the value of an accident claim. They include:
- Physical injury and associated pain and suffering
- Emotional distress resulting from the injury
- Reduced quality of life
- Loss of consortium with a spouse
- Scarring and disfigurement
Punitive damages are monetary awards from the court for the plaintiff that punish a defendant for wrongdoing and promote future deterrence. Florida courts only award punitive damages in extreme cases of gross negligence or intentional harm. The negligence associated with the average traffic collision typically is not enough to warrant punitive damages. Yet, leaving the scene of an accident is a crime, which often elevates the severity of the situation.
If you bring a lawsuit against a hit and run driver, you have a strong chance of receiving punitive damages. Your attorney can advise you on the possibility of requesting punitive damages for your specific situation. Additionally, Florida law caps punitive damages for most cases at the greater or three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000.
Common Defenses to Hit and Run Accidents
When you bring a lawsuit against a hit and run driver, it typically begins as a claim under the driver’s liability insurance coverage. Insurance companies do not stay in business by paying out each claim that comes their way. You can expect the carrier and their legal team to use every tool at their disposal to avoid financial liability for some or all of the hit and run accident. Some common defenses to hit and run accidents include:
- The defendant was not driving the car.
- The defendant did not know the crash occurred or that people or property were damaged.
- The defendant had no choice but to leave the scene of the accident. (“I had to be to the daycare center to pick up my kids before it closed.)
- The defendant did not leave the scene but stopped as close as possible to the accident.
- The defense claims you refused to take their information.
- The defense claims you were angry and threatening, so the defendant had to leave for personal safety.
Additionally, Florida is a comparative negligence state. When courts hear a case, they evaluate the extent to which a plaintiff contributed to the accident that led to their injuries and reduces damages by the proportionate amount. Comparative negligence motivates the defense to shift as much blame to the plaintiff as possible when they cannot completely deny liability. Some examples include:
- The plaintiff was driving while distracted.
- The plaintiff was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- The plaintiff disobeyed one or more traffic control devices or traffic regulations.
The simple fact that a driver left the scene of the accident does not make him or her fully liable for a traffic accident. Committing a hit and run accident can increase the amount of your settlement or court-awarded damage, but you still must prove the driver’s negligence led to the accident.
How an Experienced Hit and Run Accident Attorney Can Help
After suffering severe injuries in a hit and run accident, you need to focus your attention on healing and recovery. Regardless of whether law enforcement locates the hit and run driver, a skilled personal injury lawyer can help you through the insurance claims process and handle all communication and negotiation with carriers to protect you from their tricky tactics. In the event you can file a claim against the hit and run driver, an attorney can help with the following:
- Investigate the accident and uncovering relevant facts and documents to support your case
- Negotiate with insurance companies to give you the best chances to receive maximum compensation if you settle your claim
- Litigate your case in the courtroom when the insurance company does not want to offer fair compensation and settlement is not an option
Contact the Hit and Run Accident Lawyers at Shiner Law Group
The dedicated personal injury attorneys at Shiner Law Group have been advocating for injured accident victims in Florida, including those who suffered injuries in hit and run accidents, for almost two decades. If you have been injured in a hit and run accident, you deserve compensation for your injuries. Contact us today at 561-777-7700 or online for a free consultation and case evaluation to learn about how we can help you in the wake of a hit and run accident.