Don’t Run from an AccidentA news story from Virginia this past month has shed light on a driver’s responsibilities after an accident. If you ever thought it would be a good idea to hit-and-run…
The incident occurred when the driver of an SUV lost control of his vehicle. A passenger in the backseat was ejected when the SUV rolled, and died at the scene. A passenger in the front seat sustained minor injuries. Meanwhile, the driver fled the scene of the accident, leaving his passenger to die by the side of the road. He was later charged with involuntary manslaughter for both the accident and for fleeing the scene of the accident.
So what should the driver, and all drivers involved in an accident, have done in this scenario?
After an Accident, You Must Stay
In Washington, all drivers involved in a car accident have a responsibility to remain at the scene of the accident. While it is okay to move drivable cars to the shoulder of the road, out of the path of traffic, no one should ever leave the scene of an accident until law enforcement has given them permission. Here’s why you need to stay:
- To get help for those injured. Call an ambulance if necessary.
- To exchange information with the other driver. Driver’s license numbers, insurance information, and contact information must all be exchanged. This is especially important as Washington is a comparative negligence state, meaning more than one person can be held responsible for an accident. The insurance of the at-fault drivers must then provide accident benefits to injured parties.
- To speak to police. In cases where the drivers involved are unsure about calling the police, it is best to err on the side of caution and contact them. The police will then inform you whether they will visit the scene, and if all drivers need to remain there until they arrive.
Lastly, it is important to remain at the scene of an accident so that any witness information can be recorded. Car crashes are traumatic, and most people don’t see them coming. Drivers in an accident are unsure as to what happened or how the accident occurred. Bystanders who just witnessed the accident can help fill this information in and better explain what happened.
Washington’s Good Samaritan Laws
In some cases, those witnesses become Good Samaritans when they decide to step in and help. One man in Meansville, Georgia, found himself in such a position after he saw a driver lose control of her vehicle and he intervened to save her. Rick Rickerson, a retired police chief, was then asked by police on the scene to move his vehicle. When he refused to leave his patient (because no medical help had yet arrived), he was charged with obstructing a law enforcement officer. The charges were later dropped.
Washington encourages people to stop and help when they notice someone else in need, and has laws to protect those who do. In Washington, Good Samaritans who stop to help someone in need are immune from civil liability as long as they are not willfully negligent or reckless as they are trying to help. But as the above example shows us, when law enforcement arrives on the scene, citizens should comply with their requests and demands.
While these instances in Virginia and Georgia may seem extraordinary, the truth is that they are not. All drivers should know the importance of remaining at the scene of a car accident they were involved in. Fleeing the scene of an accident in which there has been a death is a Class B felony in Washington, with penalties up to ten years in prison and a fine up to $20,000. Fleeing the scene of an accident in which there have been injuries is considered a Class C felony, with penalties up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
These penalties, of course, are in addition to any personal liability a driver may face if he was at fault for the accident.
So, stay put after an accident, and do everything you can to help—just don’t admit fault. Even if you suffered a hit-and-run, stay at the scene and cooperate with law enforcement. Afterward, speak to our Seattle hit-and-run attorneys at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., to find out how you can get the compensation you need to cover the accident. For a free consultation, please call (888) 228-3860 today.