Hit and run accidents are a big problem in the U.S., reaching what health experts called epidemic levels in 2013. These types of accidents are especially dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, who are most often the victims. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2009 and 2011 there was a 13.7 percent increase in the number of hit-and-run fatalities and one in five pedestrian deaths were caused by hit-and-runs. The issue is also a plague in South Carolina where hit and runs are still on the increase.
What Constitutes a Hit-And-Run
If you are in any type of motor vehicle accident, with another vehicle, pedestrian, or fixed object, it is the law to stop and pull over to identify yourself as well as to render assistance if needed. Any driver who disregards this law and continues on their way has committed a hit-and-run. Even if you were not at fault for the accident, it is still considered a hit-and-run if you leave the scene of the accident without stopping.
Accidents In South Carolina
For the South Carolina Highway Patrol, hit-and-runs are almost a daily occurrence. In fact, in just the period of a year, between 2014 and 2015, there was a 15 percent increase. Drivers in hit and runs have already claimed the lives of several pedestrians across South Carolina. There was the incident of 14-year-old Grace Sulek who was on her way home from a track and field meet; there were Deandre Richardson, 16, and Leonardo Suarez-Perez, 15, who were struck by a Jeep Wrangler as they rode their skateboards; and the 41-year-old Zachary Smith who died in the hospital after being thrown from his motorcycle which was struck by an SUV; and the list could go on.
One of the most troubling aspects of these types of accidents is that the perpetrators are hardly ever caught. It is extremely difficult for law enforcement to find the drivers, even with witnesses available to give testimony.
South Carolina Penalties for Hit-And-Run
In most states, including South Carolina, being the perpetrator of a hit-and-run has numerous consequences if you’re caught and convicted. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, such as whether it was simply property damage or injuries were sustained, the penalties will vary.
If the accident involved a minor injury, the crime is considered a misdemeanor and the convicted driver will have their driver’s licence revoked, have to pay a fine of up to $5,000, and/or be given a prison sentence ranging from 30 days to one year. In addition to the revocation of their driver’s license, if there is a serious injury or death, the hit-and-run driver will be charged with a felony. The fine in cases of serious injury is $5,000-$10,000 and up to 10 years in prison while cases with fatalities are $10,000-$25,000 and one to 25 years in prison. When only property damage is part of the case, the hit-and-run driver can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined $500-$1,000, and/or possibly a prison term of no more than one year.
Although the steep penalties for hit-and-run accidents are far worse than simply following the law by staying on the scene, many choose to leave. Unfortunately, when this happens, the victims, who have often already lost so much, can be stuck with expensive medical bills, long-term injuries, or worse.
In addition to the criminal penalties associated with hit-and-run accidents, a convicted driver could also be sued for damages associated with the accident. These types of lawsuits are meant to provide monetary compensation for property damage, medical bills, and lost wages. It is similar to what the driver would face even if they stayed on the scene if they were at fault for the accident. Of course, being charged with a misdemeanor or felony for a hit-and-run will likely lead the court to impose higher amounts to punish to person. Meaning if, under normal circumstances, they would have awarded the plaintiff $5,000, they might triple the amount to $15,000.
What to Do If You Are the Victim
Unfortunately, most hit-and-run cases to not end with the victim or their family receiving the justice they deserve. In the event that you’re in an accident with another motorist who choose to flee the scene, do your best to:
- If possible, get their license plate number or a description of their vehicle;
- Contact law enforcement and report the incident, providing any relevant information you can give;
- File and accident report with the police which includes any witnesses available; and
- Report the accident to your insurance company.
As with any accident, if you are able, take pictures of the accident scene and get statements from witnesses. You should get names, addresses, and contact information from anyone who saw what happened.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
In South Carolina, although drivers are required to have auto insurance, they are not required to have uninsured motorist coverage. This type of additional insurance should be offered by your insurance company and is meant to cover you in the event you are in an accident that was caused by an uninsured driver. Your own insurance would then pay for any injuries or property damage the uninsured was unable to. Uninsured motorist coverage kicks in similarly for accidents with hit-and-run drivers.
To recover damages for the accident with a hit-and run driver, you would file a claim with your own insurance company. In order to settle successfully you would need to have reported the accident to the police in a timely manner and prove that the injury and/or property damage was caused by another vehicle (as confirmed by a witness other than the driver) and that the driver was not acting negligently to cause the accident themselves.
Contact an Attorney for Help
Hit-and-run accidents are some of the most devastating you can ever be involved in. Regardless of the type of car accident you have been in, you need an experienced Greenville car accident attorney fighting for your rights. Contact the Dan Pruitt Injury Law Firm in Greenville, South Carolina to find out more about filing a car accident claim. We’ll help you with any questions you have and ensure you get the most out of your settlement.
Dan Pruitt is a Personal Injury Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. He graduated from University of Georgia, and has been practicing law for 25 years. Dan Pruitt believes in fighting for the injured. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.