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What happens if I flee from the scene of an accident in California?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Fleeing the scene of an accident in California, commonly referred to as a “hit and run,” can result in serious legal consequences for the driver who flees the scene. The specific consequences depend on the nature of the accident and the actions taken immediately afterward, however, the driver who caused the crash is very likely to face fines, criminal charges, civil lawsuits, and possibly jail time if caught. 

Here’s an overview of what might happen in this scenario:

Legal Definitions and Obligations

  • California Vehicle Code 20002 and 20001: These are the primary laws governing hit and run incidents. VC 20002 deals with accidents that only involve property damage, while VC 20001 is applied in cases involving injury or death.
  • Obligations: The law requires individuals involved in an accident to stop, provide their identification, and render aid if necessary. Failure to do so is considered a hit and run.

Consequences Based on Accident Severity

  • Property Damage Only (VC 20002): Leaving the scene of an accident involving only property damage is a misdemeanor. It can result in fines, probation, and up to six months in jail.
  • Injury or Death Involved (VC 20001): If the accident involves injury or death, fleeing the scene becomes a more serious offense. It can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Penalties can include significant fines and imprisonment.

Additional Factors Affecting Consequences

  • Driving Under the Influence: If you are found to have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the accident, penalties can be more severe, including longer jail sentences and higher fines.
  • Distracted Driving: If it’s determined that the driver was distracted (e.g., texting), this could aggravate the situation, potentially leading to harsher penalties or civil liabilities.
  • Injuries to Self: If you leave the scene because of your own injuries, this may be considered in your defense, but it does not exempt you from the responsibility of reporting the accident as soon as possible.

Legal Proceedings and Defenses

  • Criminal Charges: The state may press charges, leading to a criminal trial. The severity of these charges varies based on the accident’s outcome and the driver’s actions.
  • Possible Defenses: Defenses in hit and run cases can include lack of knowledge of the accident, no intent to evade responsibility, or fear for personal safety.

Civil Implications

  • Liability for Damages: Apart from criminal charges, fleeing an accident scene can lead to civil lawsuits for any damages or injuries caused.
  • Insurance Complications: Insurance companies may impose penalties, increase premiums, or deny coverage for hit and run incidents.

How do people get caught when they flee the scene of an accident?

When someone flees the scene of an accident, law enforcement employs various methods to track and identify the individual responsible. Here are some of the common ways people get caught:

Eyewitness Accounts

  • Descriptions of the Vehicle and Driver: Witnesses at the scene can often provide descriptions of the fleeing vehicle, including make, model, color, and even partial license plate numbers.
  • Direction of Escape: Witnesses might also note the direction in which the vehicle fled, aiding in the initial search efforts.

Surveillance Footage

  • Traffic Cameras: Almost every street, intersection and highway in California is equipped with traffic cameras that can capture footage of accidents and fleeing vehicles. This footage is stored forever and is easy to review by police.
  • Business and Residential Security Cameras: Nearby businesses or homes with security cameras may also capture useful footage. This is one of the most common ways that hit and run drivers are caught.
  • Dashcams: Approximately 20% of drivers in California use dashcams, so there is high chance that either the victim, or another vehicle nearby will have footage of the individual fleeing the scene of the accident.

3. Physical Evidence at the Scene

  • Vehicle Parts: Parts of the vehicle that caused the accident might be left behind, like a broken mirror or bumper, which can help in identifying the vehicle type or model. In some cases, the fleeing driver will accidentally leave behind their driver’s license at the scene.
  • Paint Transfer: Paint from the fleeing vehicle can transfer to the other vehicle involved, providing clues about the color and potentially the make of the car.

4. Public and Media Appeals

  • Law Enforcement Appeals: Police often make public appeals for information, especially in hit-and-run cases involving serious injuries or fatalities.
  • Media Coverage: Local news outlets may broadcast details of the accident and request information from the public.

5. License Plate Recognition Technology

  • Automatic Plate Recognition Systems: Some law enforcement agencies use this technology to scan and check license plates against a database of vehicles of interest.

6. Anonymous Tips

  • Hotlines and Tip Lines: People might provide anonymous tips through hotlines set up specifically for reporting crimes, including hit-and-run incidents.

7. Driver’s Guilt or Fear

  • Self-Reporting: Sometimes, the driver responsible for a hit and run might turn themselves in, driven by guilt, fear of being caught, or advice from an attorney.

8. Vehicle Repair Shops

  • Suspicious Damage: Auto repair shops might report vehicles that come in with damage consistent with a recent accident, especially when the driver is evasive about the cause.

9. Social Media and Online Activity

  • Incidental Admissions or Bragging: Occasionally, individuals might inadvertently reveal their involvement in an accident through social media posts or messages.

What percent of hit and run accidents are solved in California?

Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Police Department revealed that in the year 2017, only 8% of hit and run cases in the city were solved. While it is unclear what the exact percentages are in other locations for the year 2023, this figure paints a harrowing picture of how difficult it can be for the police to solve hit and run accidents.

The Importance of Legal Representation

Given the complexity and high likelihood of an accident occurring as a result of a hit and run , it is important that you seek legal representation to help you to be able to pay for your medical bills and the pain you have endured. An experienced California accident attorney can help you to navigate the legal system, find the responsible party, file a lawsuit, and seek justice from the responsible parties.

If you have been injured in a car accident in California, please call the legal team at J&Y Law Firm in Los Angeles, CA at 310-407-0766 or send us a message with the chat feature on our website. We have helped thousands of individuals like you to receive compensation when injured due to the irresponsibility of another party and fight aggressively for our clients.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.