California is one of states that has very specific laws regarding a motorists duty when in a car accident. If you live in California, get to know the laws associated with car accidents.
Many people who have no history with crime have ended up being charged with misdemeanor hit and run or felony hit and run due to their not realizing their actions after a car accident were considered criminal.
California Vehicle Code 2002 requires you 1) stop immediately at the scene of an accident. This code requires 2) that you provide your name and your current address. Remember, if you are driving a car that belongs to someone else, you legally must provide the owners name and address also. 3) If requested, you must also provide your driver license and the vehicle registration. While not required by code but ultimately will be required for you to provide is the auto insurance information of the vehicle involved in an accident. Some California drivers have believed that they only have to provide this information to a highway patrol officer or police officer and not to other citizens as they claim they have a right to privacy. California law requires this information be provided to private citizens with whom we are involved in an accident with. Failure to do so is considered a criminal action.
This same code requires by law, that if a motorist strikes a parked car or causes property damage to an object and the owner of said car or property is unknown, not home etc., the motorist must ‘leave in a conspicuous place’ either on the vehicle or on the damaged property, the name and address of the person causing the damage and then notify the policy department of CHP of the incident.
California drivers who fail to comply with this Vehicle Code may be convicted of a hit an run offense.
In California there are two types of hit and run offenses: misdemeanor and felony.
You may be charged with a misdemeanor ‘hit and run’ under Vehicle Code 20002 VC if you: 1) leave an accident scene without identifying yourself to the other party involved 2) leave the scene of the accident or the damaged property without providing notification.
In California it is up to the prosecutor to determine whether a person will be charged with felony or misdemeanor hit or run. The prosecutor, when deciding what they charge will be, will likely be looking at the facts of the case as well as the prior driving record and criminal history of the person who fled the scene. A big part of the issue will be, did the collision cause property damage only or was someone injured or killed?
California drivers face stiff penalties for failure to obey this Vehicle Code section. If it is determined to be a misdemeanor, a California driver may face a fine anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 and up to one year in jail. If the accident resulted in a serious injury to a person or resulted in a death, the person who fled the scene will likely have to serve at least 90 days in jail. If the hit and run is prosecuted as a felony, the monetary penalty remains the same but prison time can be increased to 16 months to 3 years in prison.
California drivers, including those not a fault for an accident or who were not the cause of the accident, can be charged with ‘hit and run’ if they do not exchange information. For example, if you part of a 3+ vehicle rear end accident but your car is the last car and not damaged at all but the other cars are damaged and some of the drivers sustained injuries (even minor), leaving the scene of the accident can be considered a chargeable hit and run.
California Vehicle Code 2003 sheds a little bit more light as to what the prosecutor may use to charge a person who is not responsible for the accident with ‘hit and run.’ This part of the code states that California drivers must ‘render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including transporting…it it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if that transportation is requested by any injured person.’
What if a person caused injury or death to a driver in a rural area where no cell phone reception is available and/or nearby officers respond? California drivers are required by law are required to first obtain medical assistance and/or transportation for the injured or deceased. Then they are to ‘without delay, report the accident to the nearest office of the Department of California Highway Patrol or office of a duly authorized police authority.’ If you have taken the injured person to a hospital, you can ask the staff there to contact the police department for you, and in most cases they will meet you at the hospital.
What if I am a California driver and I do not have my driver license on me at the time of an accident? (Or what if I am an illegal resident of California who has not obtained US identification yet?) Such drivers are still required by California Vehicle Code 2006 to provide a ‘valid evidence of identification’ to the occupants of the vehicle with which he collided. Failure to do so can result in criminal charges.
What is you are a passenger in a vehicle and the driver is left with such severe injuries they are incapable of making the required accident report? If you accompanied the severely injured driver to the emergency room in the ambulance, you will usually you will be contacted there by a local police officer or CHP officer for a statement regarding the accident and may be asked to help provide the contact information of the severely injured driver. You are required by law to cooperate with the officers. If for some reason you have left the scene of the accident and the driver of the accident remains in critical condition and unable to provide any information, California Vehicle Code Section 20010 does require ‘any occupant in the vehicle at the time of the accident’ to ‘make the (police report) or cause it to be made.’
If you have been injured in an accident by a hit and run driver, you may still have rights to recovery for your injuries. I’m Ed Smith, a leading Sacramento car accident and wrongful death lawyer. We have aided many California drivers obtain a recovery for injuries inflicted on them by hit and run drivers. If your loved one died due to a hit and run driver, you may still be able to pursue a wrongful death claim. Please contact my office further to discuss this. We can be reached via telephone at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400.
Photo Attribution: By Shuets Udono (http://www.flickr.com/photos/udono/408633225/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons