Hit and Run Laws
In most cases, if you are involved in an accident, leaving the scene of the accident is considered either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the exact circumstances. A hit and run is a serious offense and you may need to consult a car accident attorney. But first, you should know about hit and run laws, what to do in a hit and run scenario, and how you can protect yourself.
What Classifies as a Hit and Run?
If you were involved in an accident that: caused injuries to others (driver, passenger, pedestrian), resulted in a person’s death or caused damage to property (i.e. a parked vehicle) and do not stay on the scene until EMS/law enforcement arrives, you are considered to have committed a “hit and run.”
Depending on the state/location you are in, you may be liable even if you were not the one who caused the accident. In some states it doesn’t matter if the accident was on a public highway/road or just a parking lot, the same classification applies.
What Should You Do if You Are Involved in an Accident?
If you are involved in a car accident, you must first make sure no one is injured. Stop your vehicle as close as you can to the scene without impeding traffic or putting you or others further at risk. You should then stay with your car and in the vicinity until the proper steps are taken and the emergency response team permits you to leave.
The exact protocol for the next steps depends on whether the accident resulted in an injury or property damage.
- Scenario 1: If there is an injury, call the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) and do what you can to assist the injured person(s) if necessary. You will also need to call law enforcement right away.
- Scenario 2: If there are no injuries, exchange contact information and identification.
- Scenario 3: If you have an accident involving a parked car, obtain the license plate number and leave a note for the driver with identifying information.
What Happens if You Leave the Scene in North Carolina?
Since a hit and run is a crime, there are almost always penalties for your actions. Depending on the nature and severity of the accident (injuries, damages, fault) you may face criminal penalties, administrative penalties and/or civil penalties.
You may be charged with either a felony or misdemeanor as the result of a hit and run, depending on the circumstances.
You are likely to be charged with a misdemeanor if one or more of the following is true:
- The property damage or injury caused by the accident is minor
- You leave the scene of an accident in which only property damage was sustained
The hit and run may be qualified as a felony if one or more of the following applies:
- The accident causes injury, in which case it would be classified as a Class H felony
- The accident causes serious bodily injury, or death, in which case it is qualified as a Class F felony
The criminal penalties for a hit and run depend on how the accident is classified.
A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 120 days in jail, and fines of up to $5,000. A Class H felony can result in anywhere from four to 25 months in jail, suspension of your driver's license, and hefty fines. A Class F felony leads to between 10 and 41 months in jail, driver’s license suspension, and fines. For a felony, the fines vary, but can be as high as $20,000.
The DMV may automatically suspend or revoke your license from 6 months to up to 3 years or even for life. Administrative penalties are in addition to criminal punishment.
If the accident was your fault you may be sued for damages or medical bills. You may even lose your auto insurance. Civil penalties are highly likely even if you DO stay at the scene of an accident. However, if you leave, you may be awarded “treble damages” which means you could be fined up to three times the assessed amount.
What Evidence Is Needed To Convict a Hit and Run in North Carolina?
For someone to be found guilty of a hit and run in North Carolina, prosecutors must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- An accident occurred
- The defendant was the driving
- The defendant knew that an accident occurred
- The defendant willfully failed to stop at the scene
- That the financial damages suffered by the victim were a result of the accident
Medical reports, police reports, witness statements, and more can be used to make the argument for your case. An experienced attorney can help you gather and present the evidence most effectively.
Is It Ever Okay to Leave the Scene of an Accident?
There are very few circumstances in which it is not a crime to leave the scene of an accident in North Carolina. Just keep in mind that if you do leave the scene for any of these reasons, you will be expected to return “within a reasonable amount of time”.
To Alert the Police
If you have to leave the scene in order to call the police or emergency services—for instance, if you don’t have a cell phone anywhere nearby or do not have service—you can leave the scene to alert them.
To Get Medical Attention
Of course, if you are involved in an accident and must be moved from the scene to receive medical attention, you will not be punished for this.
To Avoid Further Injury
If staying at the scene of the accident puts you and any other parties at risk of further injury, you are permitted to go to a safer location to wait for help.
If You Hit a Parked Car
You may be permitted to leave the scene of an accident if you hit a parked car, but only in very specific circumstances. If you do hit a parked car, your first course of action should be to wait for the owner for a reasonable amount of time. Ideally, you will be able to speak with them in person and exchange information.
If you have waited but the owner does not seem to be anywhere nearby, or never appears, only then should you resort to leaving a note. Include your name, email address, and phone number. Make sure to leave it in a secure place—like under their windshield wipers—so they’ll be sure to see it.
In these cases, you should also contact the authorities to file a report. They may also be able to get you in touch with the owner of the car.
What To Do if You Are the Victim of a Hit and Run in North Carolina
If you have been the victim of a hit and run in North Carolina, you may have a few questions about your best course of action.
How Long Do You Have To Report a Hit and Run?
You should report a hit and run accident to the police within 24 hours of the original incident. You should also report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible, though most will accept reports “within a reasonable amount of time” after the accident—usually within a few days.
What To Do After You Are the Victim of a Hit and Run
There are a few steps to take immediately after an accident if you have been the victim of a hit and run:
- Call the police: Alert the authorities to the accident. They may be able to identify and find the driver who hit you, but even if they can't, their report will be important to the process of filing your insurance claim.
- Get medical treatment: Even if you feel ok a medical exam can make sure that you haven’t sustained serious injuries, and help you get treatment if you have.
- Report the accident to your insurance company: You’ll need to alert your insurance provider as soon as you can, though usually you have a grace period of a few days to get this done. Since North Carolina requires uninsured motorist coverage, you’ll be able to file a claim with your own provider for damage and injury costs as long as you have the state-required coverage.
Do You Need a Lawyer if You Are the Victim of a Hit and Run?
Even though a hit and run leaves you with fewer options for compensation after an accident, especially if the other driver is never identified, your insurance company may make it difficult to get the amount you are hoping for or need to cover all your costs.
North Carolina is a pure contributory negligence state, which means if you are found to bear any of the responsibility of an accident, you cannot recover damages as a plaintiff. If your insurance company determines that you are even partially responsible, they may not offer the compensation you need.
If they do determine that you are blameless, you may still not receive the full amount needed to cover all of your costs.
In these cases, a personal injury attorney can help you get the settlement you are looking for.
What Is Considered a Non-Reportable Accident in North Carolina?
In many cases, failure to report within 24 hours of an accident can result in serious repercussions. However, there are some cases in which an accident report is not required. You may still call the police for these accidents, and they will likely come out to the scene to respond, but they do not have to file a report.
A non-reportable accident in North Carolina is one that falls into one or more of the following categories:
- No property damage or injuries are sustained
- No injuries are sustained, but property damage estimated at less than $1,500 is incurred
You will still want to stay at the scene with the other driver to exchange personal and insurance information and determine how you will resolve the damage, but a police report is not required.
Get Legal Representation for Your Auto Accident
There are many other scenarios that can make a hit and run accident even more damaging to both parties. If you're an uninsured driver involved in a hit and run, you may face even greater risk. If you need help navigating a hit and run accident case, contact our car accident lawyers.
Our car accident attorneys handle truck wreck and auto crash injury claims on a contingency basis — you pay no attorney fees unless a favorable settlement or jury award is obtained on your behalf. The Van Camp, Meacham & Newman law firm also offers free legal consultations with no obligation!
Schedule a free consultation with us by contacting our firm online, calling us locally at (910) 295-2525, or by reaching us toll free at (877) 288-6557.