Navigating the complexities of a hit-and-run accident can feel daunting. This article will guide you through Pennsylvania’s traffic laws, the distinctions between civil and criminal cases, and how they pertain to hit-and-run situations. You’ll also discover practical steps to take in the aftermath of a hit-and-run incident. This article is to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of your rights and potential recourse in these distressing circumstances. If you get into a hit and run accident anywhere in Pennsylvania, contact our Pennsylvania car accident lawyer today to schedule a free consultation.
Pennsylvania’s Traffic Laws: A Broad Overview
Pennsylvania’s Vehicle Code outlines all traffic rules that apply in the state. Notably, when an accident occurs, the code specifies certain obligations for drivers. These include stopping as soon as possible, staying at the accident scene, providing identification details, and offering assistance, such as arranging medical help if necessary.
The Hit and Run Offense in Pennsylvania Law
Hit and run offenses, legally termed as ‘Accidents Involving Death or Personal Injury’, constitute severe violations under Pennsylvania law. If you are involved in an accident resulting in bodily injury, or death, the law requires you to remain at the scene until you’ve fulfilled your obligations, regardless of whether you were at fault. Fleeing the scene can lead to severe penalties including hefty fines and potential incarceration.
Penalties for Hit and Run Offenses
The severity of penalties for hit-and-run offenses in Pennsylvania varies based on the extent of harm caused. If the accident resulted in serious bodily injury, the offender could face a third-degree felony charge, which comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days and a minimum fine of $1,000. If the accident led to a fatality, the charges could escalate to a second-degree felony with a mandatory minimum of one-year imprisonment and a $2,500 fine.
Duty to Report Accidents
Additionally, Pennsylvania law imposes a duty to report certain accidents to the police. If an accident involves damage that results in injury, death, or vehicle damage that prevents its safe operation, it must be reported. Failure to do so can result in a summary offense, carrying additional fines.
Civil vs. Criminal Cases: A Fundamental Distinction
To understand your legal options in a hit-and-run scenario, it’s important to distinguish between civil and criminal cases. In simple terms, criminal cases involve crimes against society as a whole, even if an individual is directly harmed, while civil cases pertain to disputes between individuals or organizations.
Criminal Implications of a Hit and Run
In the context of a hit-and-run, the act of leaving the scene of an accident is considered a crime against society. As outlined in the previous section, Pennsylvania law imposes strict penalties for this crime. These penalties are part of the criminal case, pursued by the state, and may include fines, imprisonment, or both.
The Civil Aspect of a Hit and Run
On the other hand, as a victim of a hit and run, you have the option to initiate a civil case against the perpetrator. This is separate from any criminal proceedings and focuses solely on compensating you for your losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. The goal in a civil case is not to punish the offender but to “make you whole” again after the incident.
It’s crucial to note that these two types of cases can occur concurrently. That means the offender can face criminal charges from the state and, at the same time, be sued by you in a civil lawsuit.
Key Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases
There are key differences between civil and criminal cases that affect how they are conducted. These include different standards of proof, with criminal cases requiring proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” and civil cases relying on a “preponderance of the evidence”. Additionally, while criminal cases are typically initiated by the government, civil cases are started by the individual who was harmed.
Initiating a Civil Case After a Hit and Run
When you decide to file a civil lawsuit following a hit-and-run incident, you’re seeking compensation for the damages you’ve suffered. This could include medical costs, property damage, lost wages due to missed work, and non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
Establishing Liability in a Hit-and-Run Case
To successfully sue the driver responsible for the hit and run, you’ll need to prove their liability. This process generally involves demonstrating four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. The duty refers to the driver’s responsibility to operate their vehicle safely. A breach is a violation of this duty, such as fleeing the scene of an accident. Causation refers to the need to show that the driver’s actions directly resulted in your injuries or damage. Lastly, you must provide evidence of actual damages, like medical bills or car repair costs.
Filing a Lawsuit: The Process
To file a lawsuit, you’ll generally begin by filing a complaint with the appropriate Pennsylvania court. This document outlines your allegations against the defendant and the damages you’re seeking. Once the complaint is served to the defendant, they have the opportunity to respond, and the case will proceed with discovery, negotiation, and potentially, trial.
Role of an Attorney in Pursuing a Civil Case
While it’s possible to represent yourself in a civil case, the process can be complex and time-consuming. Many people opt to hire a personal injury attorney to help navigate these legal waters. An attorney can provide valuable assistance in investigating the incident, gathering evidence, negotiating with insurance companies, and representing your interests in court.
Immediate Actions After a Hit and Run
If you’re the unfortunate victim of a hit-and-run incident, there are several crucial steps you should take. First, ensure the safety of yourself and anyone else involved in the accident. Contact emergency medical services if there are any injuries.
Documenting the Incident
Second, try to document as much as you can about the incident. This includes the make, model, and color of the vehicle, any part of the license plate number you can remember, and a description of the driver. Also, look around for any potential witnesses and ask for their contact information. Photos of the scene and your damaged vehicle can also be useful evidence.
Reporting the Hit and Run
Next, report the hit-and-run to the police as soon as possible. Share all the information you gathered and cooperate fully with their investigation. Also, remember to file a report with your insurance company promptly, even if you have limited information about the other party involved.
Following Up After the Incident
In the days following the hit-and-run, consider seeking legal advice to understand your options, particularly if the hit-and-run driver remains unidentified or disputes liability. You should also follow up on any necessary medical treatment and continue to document your recovery and any related costs.
The Role of Law Enforcement and Insurance Companies
In the aftermath of a hit and run, law enforcement officers and insurance companies play significant roles. The police will work to identify and locate the hit-and-run driver, while your insurance company will begin assessing your claim. Both of these processes are crucial in your journey to recovery and potential compensation.
The Value of Legal Counsel in a Hit-and-Run Case
Engaging the services of an attorney following a hit-and-run incident can significantly bolster your case. While it’s possible to handle matters on your own, a seasoned lawyer can provide invaluable assistance, especially in more complex scenarios (American Bar Association, 2021).
Investigation and Gathering Evidence
Attorneys skilled in personal injury law often have resources for investigating hit-and-run incidents that might not be available to you. They can work in tandem with law enforcement, conduct independent investigations, gather and preserve evidence, interview witnesses, and use other tools to help identify the offending driver.
Navigating the Legal System
Your lawyer can also help you understand and navigate the legal system. This includes explaining Pennsylvania’s traffic laws, outlining your rights, filing a lawsuit on your behalf, and guiding you through the litigation process. If your case goes to court, your attorney can represent you, ensuring your interests are well-defended (Pennsylvania Bar Association, 2021).
Negotiating with Insurance Companies
Another significant benefit of hiring an attorney is their expertise in dealing with insurance companies. They can negotiate on your behalf to secure fair compensation and contest any lowball offers or denials of coverage.
Advocacy and Support
Finally, a good attorney provides emotional support and advocacy during a challenging time. They can alleviate some of the stress of dealing with the aftermath of a hit and run, allowing you to focus on your recovery.
Engaging an attorney following a hit-and-run can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. They bring expertise, resources, and experience to help ensure your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.
Being a victim of a hit-and-run in Pennsylvania can be a distressing experience. However, understanding your rights and the available legal avenues can empower you to seek justice. Initiating a civil lawsuit and any criminal penalties the offending driver may face can be an effective way to recover damages. Always remember that obtaining legal counsel can simplify this process and increase your chances of a favorable outcome. Ultimately, your knowledge and action can play a vital role in your recovery and in holding the responsible party accountable.