Leaving the Scene of an Accident

LEAVING THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT

Whenever there is an auto accident in Florida, our laws require those involved in the accident to follow the procedures set forth in Sections 316.027, 316.061, and 316.062 of the Florida Statutes.  Which procedure to follow simply depends upon the type and severity of the accident.  Unfortunately, not following these instructions can lead to a felony charge of Leaving the Scene of an Accident with personal injury or death, or a misdemeanor charge when the crash only involves property damage.

The purpose of these laws is to assure that any injured person is rendered aid and that all pertinent information concerning insurance and names of those involved in the accident is exchanged by the parties.  Keep in mind that a conviction for Leaving the Scene of an Accident does not allow the court to impose restitution for the damages caused by the accident, because the fact that a defendant left the scene does not mean that the defendant actually "caused" the damages or accident.  That is a separate issue, often left to the insurance companies to decide.

It's best to start with my favorite defense to this crime, and that involves situations where the driver is physically unable to make a report as required by law.  This defense is found in Section 316.064 of the Florida Statutes, and it reads as follows:

316.064. When driver unable to report

(1) A crash report is not required under this chapter from any person who is physically incapable of making a report during the period of such incapacity.

(2) Whenever the driver of a vehicle is physically incapable of making an immediate or a written report of a crash, as required in ss. 316.065 and 316.066, and there was another occupant in the vehicle at the time of the crash capable of making a report, such occupant shall make or cause to be made the report not made by the driver.

(3) Whenever the driver is physically incapable of making a written report of a crash as required in this chapter, then the owner of the vehicle involved in the crash shall, within 10 days after the crash, make such report not made by the driver.

(4) A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a non-moving violation as provided in chapter 318.

This "unable to report" defense may be available under any level of incapacity, so the fact that a driver was not brought to the hospital by ambulance does not mean there is no defense.  A friend may have taken the driver to a CentraCare Urgent Care type facility that, should we be able to provide documentation that such a visit occurred, could aid in a defense. 

Now, let's break down the three types situations that can lead to an arrest for Leaving the Scene of an Accident.  Starting with the least serious, leaving the scene of an accident with damage done to an unattended vehicle is only a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, and it's found in Section 316.063 of the Florida Statutes.  Thus, the best defense to a case like this is to show proof that the law, listed below, was complied with by attaching the required information in a conspicuous place on the vehicle.  For more details on this type of defense, see my article "When Is Leaving the Scene of an Accident not a Crime?"

     316.063. Duty upon damaging unattended vehicle or other property

(1) The driver of any vehicle which collides with, or is involved in a crash with, any vehicle or other property which is unattended, resulting in any damage to such other vehicle or property, shall immediately stop and shall then and there either locate and notify the operator or owner of the vehicle or other property of the driver's name and address and the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving, or shall attach securely in a conspicuous place in or on the vehicle or other property a written notice giving the driver's name and address and the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving, and shall without unnecessary delay notify the nearest office of a duly authorized police authority. Any person who fails to comply with this subsection commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(2) Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary. If a damaged vehicle is obstructing traffic, the driver shall make every reasonable effort to move the vehicle or have it moved so as not to obstruct the regular flow of traffic. A violation of this subsection is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation as provided in chapter 318.

(3) The law enforcement officer at the scene of a crash required to be reported in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1) or the law enforcement officer receiving a report by a driver as required by subsection (1) shall, if part or any of the property damaged is a fence or other structure used to house or contain livestock, promptly make a reasonable effort to notify the owner, occupant, or agent of this damage.

Section 316.061 reads pretty much the same way as 316.063 listed above, except that it pertains to accidents with attended vehicles.  It reads as follows:

       316.061. Crashes involving damage to vehicle or property

(1) The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash resulting only in damage to a vehicle or other property which is driven or attended by any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such crash or as close thereto as possible, and shall forthwith return to, and in every event shall remain at, the scene of the crash until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of s. 316.062. A person who violates this subsection commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, $5 shall be added to a fine imposed pursuant to this section, which $5 shall be deposited in the Emergency Medical Services Trust Fund.

(2) Every stop must be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary, and, if a damaged vehicle is obstructing traffic, the driver of such vehicle must make every reasonable effort to move the vehicle or have it moved so as not to block the regular flow of traffic. Any person failing to comply with this subsection shall be cited for a nonmoving violation, punishable as provided in chapter 318.

(3) Employees or authorized agents of the Department of Transportation, law enforcement with proper jurisdiction, or an expressway authority created pursuant to chapter 348, in the exercise, management, control, and maintenance of its highway system, may undertake the removal from the main traveled way of roads on its highway system of all vehicles incapacitated as a result of a motor vehicle crash and of debris caused thereby. Such removal is applicable when such a motor vehicle crash results only in damage to a vehicle or other property, and when such removal can be accomplished safely and will result in the improved safety or convenience of travel upon the road. The driver or any other person who has removed a motor vehicle from the main traveled way of the road as provided in this section shall not be considered liable or at fault regarding the cause of the accident solely by reason of moving the vehicle.

Finally, we get to the felony stage of this criminal allegation, Leaving the Scene of an Accident involving death or personal injuries.  This crime is more complex than it may appear, and may be punishable as a third degree felony on up to a first degree felony requiring a mandatory prison sentence, all depending upon the circumstances.  Here's how it reads:

        316.027. Crash involving death or personal injuries

(1)(a) The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash occurring on public or private property that results in injury of any person must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash, or as close thereto as possible, and must remain at the scene of the crash until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of s. 316.062. Any person who willfully violates this paragraph commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

(b) The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash occurring on public or private property that results in the death of any person must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash, or as close thereto as possible, and must remain at the scene of the crash until he or she has fulfilled the requirements of s. 316.062. Any person who willfully violates this paragraph commits a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. Any person who willfully violates this paragraph while driving under the influence as set forth in s. 316.193(1) shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 2 years.

(c) Notwithstanding s. 775.089(1)(a), if the driver of a vehicle violates paragraph (a) or paragraph (b), the court shall order the driver to make restitution to the victim for any damage or loss unless the court finds clear and compelling reasons not to order the restitution. Restitution may be monetary or nonmonetary restitution. The court shall make the payment of restitution a condition of probation in accordance with s. 948.03. An order requiring the defendant to make restitution to a victim does not remove or diminish the requirement that the court order payment to the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund under chapter 960. Payment of an award by the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund creates an order of restitution to the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund unless specifically waived in accordance with s. 775.089(1)(b).

(2) The department shall revoke the driver's license of the person so convicted.

(3) Every stop must be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary, and, if a damaged vehicle is obstructing traffic, the driver of the vehicle must make every reasonable effort to move the vehicle or have it moved so as not to obstruct the regular flow of traffic. Any person who fails to comply with this subsection shall be cited for a nonmoving violation, punishable as provided in chapter 318.

(4) A person whose commission of a noncriminal traffic infraction or any violation of this chapter or s. 1006.66 causes or results in the death of another person may, in addition to any other civil, criminal, or administrative penalty imposed, be required by the court to serve 120 community service hours in a trauma center or hospital that regularly receives victims of vehicle accidents, under the supervision of a registered nurse, an emergency room physician, or an emergency medical technician pursuant to a voluntary community service program operated by the trauma center or hospital.

(5) This section does not apply to crashes occurring during a motorsports event, as defined in s. 549.10(1), or at a closed-course motorsport facility, as defined in s. 549.09(1).

And last but not least, what discussion of Leaving the Scene would be complete without mentioning our duty to give information and render aid.  Violating this statute will only result in a traffic infraction punishable as a nonmoving violation.  Check it out below:

316.062. Duty to give information and render aid

(1) The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash resulting in injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle or other property which is driven or attended by any person shall give his or her name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving, and shall upon request and if available exhibit his or her license or permit to drive, to any person injured in such crash or to the driver or occupant of or person attending any vehicle or other property damaged in the crash and shall give such information and, upon request, exhibit such license or permit to any police officer at the scene of the crash or who is investigating the crash and shall render to any person injured in the crash reasonable assistance, including the carrying, or the making of arrangements for the carrying, of such person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary, or if such carrying is requested by the injured person.

(2) In the event none of the persons specified are in condition to receive the information to which they otherwise would be entitled under subsection (1), and no police officer is present, the driver of any vehicle involved in such crash, after fulfilling all other requirements of s. 316.027 and subsection (1), insofar as possible on his or her part to be performed, shall forthwith report the crash to the nearest office of a duly authorized police authority and submit thereto the information specified in subsection (1).

(3) The statutory duty of a person to make a report or give information to a law enforcement officer making a written report relating to a crash shall not be construed as extending to information which would violate the privilege of such person against self-incrimination.

(4) A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation as provided in chapter 318.

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