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What Happens if You Leave the Scene of a Car Accident?


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Leaving the scene of an accident can carry severe penalties, especially if anyone is injured in the incident. Severe injuries can change misdemeanor charges into felony charges. When it comes to dealing with such situations, consulting with the team at Goodman Acker would be to your benefit. Learn more about charges, penalties, insurance implications, and other key factors in cases where drivers leave the scene of an accident.

What Are the Legal Implications of Leaving the Scene of an Accident?

Two Drivers Debating in a Parking Lot at the Scene of a Car Accident
Image via Flickr by meddygarnet.

Drivers involved in an accident are expected to stay at the scene, regardless of fault, long enough to provide their name, address, and license plate number and show their driver's license to the police officer or anyone else who was directly involved in the accident. Sometimes, it may be necessary to move the vehicles off of a highway to a safer spot or a marked crash investigation site on the road. Drivers may also need to leave to contact emergency services. In cases where injuries occur, drivers are expected to seek emergency assistance. Michigan's penalties increase with the severity of the incident:

  • Leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $100, or both.

  • Leaving the scene of an accident with injuries is a misdemeanor with steeper penalties of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. The Michigan Secretary of State can also suspend the person's driver's license. This includes accidents with another vehicle or with a pedestrian.

  • Leaving the scene of an accident with serious injuries leading to disabilities or death may result in felony charges with up to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. If the driver is found to be at fault, penalties can increase to 15 years of prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. This can include accidents with another vehicle or with a pedestrian.

Only the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident faces potential charges. Passengers may be obligated in some circumstances to report the accident if the driver fails to do so. Drivers may face additional charges with separate penalties stemming from the accident if they're under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they're driving recklessly, the victim dies, or other aggravating factors are present.

Does Insurance Cover When Someone Leaves the Scene of an Accident?

Car insurance companies look at two different scenarios when it comes to leaving the scene of an accident. Either the policyholder left the scene of an accident, or the policyholder was involved in an accident where someone else leaves the scene. Regardless of the circumstances, be sure to take steps to mitigate risk.

Policyholder Leaves the Scene

If you're at fault for an accident and leave the scene, your car insurance should cover damages and injuries up to policy limits. This may not be the case if your policy has a provision that prohibits leaving the scene of an accident or other exclusions. Reporting an accident to your insurance company, regardless of the circumstances, is crucial. Drivers who leave the scene of an accident can also face more serious punitive damages in a lawsuit.

Other Driver Leaves the Scene

If you're a victim of an accident where the driver leaves, your insurance likely will step in, since the other party is unknown. If the person who left the scene was also responsible for the accident, your bodily injury insurance coverage wouldn't apply since you're not at fault for the accident. Uninsured motorist coverage kicks in at that point. Uninsured motorist coverage is an optional but essential element of every Michigan auto insurance policy. Michigan's no-fault insurance laws changed in July 2020, lowering minimum coverage for injuries. Drivers need to be sure to carry adequate uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.

Auto insurance policies may have strict requirements for covering accidents where the responsible party leaves the scene. Victims of the accident will probably have to file a police report as soon as possible and report the crash to their insurance company within 24 hours. Uninsured motorist coverage will typically only cover injuries. Collision coverage will step in to cover property damage to your vehicle. Circumstances can get very complicated, especially if the responsible party fled the scene and is being sought by authorities. Protect your rights by consulting with a Michigan personal injury lawyer.

What's the Difference Between a Hit and Run and Leaving the Scene of an Accident?

Both terms are often used interchangeably, but the terms sometimes apply to different circumstances. Hit and run accidents often involve the driver fleeing the scene of an accident with another vehicle without notifying the other party or the authorities. Leaving the scene of an accident usually refers to drivers who leave the scene after damaging property.

Witnesses or bystanders at the scene aren't required to stay by law but often stay to seek emergency services or provide first aid.

What If You Leave the Accident, but Then Come Back?

Returning to the scene after leaving can be a mitigating factor, as the sooner the failure to stay at the scene is resolved, the better. A driver may panic after an accident and leave. It is, however, permissible to leave for safety reasons like traffic or a possible explosion, and sometimes a driver may need to seek help or get a cell phone signal.

Requirements for staying at the scene are higher when injuries or death occur. In accidents with only property damage, drivers may proceed to the nearest safe place to stop without blocking traffic. For drivers who leave the scene out of fear or shock, their return can be a mitigating factor the court can consider. This can potentially lower fines and penalties. Drivers may also have the defense that they were seeking a safe place to pull over and were unable to do so, then returned to the scene.

Michigan laws on auto insurance liability are evolving. Personal injury cases involving a driver who left the scene of the accident become very complex. Grand Rapids car accident lawyers can look beyond the emotional aspect and work to get their clients the best possible outcome. If you or a family member suffered injuries from an accident in the Grand Rapids area or any other part of Michigan, contact our office for a free consultation.