A 50-year-old woman died on Florida’s U.S. 17 on a Friday morning after a semi-truck driver suddenly changed lanes, colliding with the woman’s car and causing her to lose control and spiral into the ditch. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, but the driver continued driving, leaving the scene of the accident. A deputy at the scene of the crash got into his cruiser and headed the direction of the truck. He discovered the truck a few miles down the road and arrested the driver for leaving the scene of a traffic accident resulting in a fatality.
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, approximately one quarter of all drivers involved in motor vehicle crashes in the state each year leave the scene of the accident. The state actually implemented stricter penalties for leaving the scene in 2014 after a 2012 hit-and-run killed a 31-year-old bicyclist and father of two. The drunk driver in that case received a sentence of two years for fleeing the scene, which is less than what he would have served if he’d stopped at the scene and been charged with DUI manslaughter.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that hit-and-run crashes had reached an all time high in the U.S., with a 60 percent increase in this type of accident between 2009 and 2016. In fact, the organization reported, a hit-and-run crash occurs somewhere in the nation every minute of every day. Nearly 65 percent of the victims in hit-and-run crashes are pedestrians and bicyclists. Florida is one of the three states in the nation, along with New Mexico and Louisiana, where hit-and-run accidents occur most often.
A passenger car driver is generally more likely to flee the scene of an accident that resulted in the death of a pedestrian or bicyclist than one that involved other vehicles because often their car isn’t operational after an accident with another vehicle and the damage is more obvious. However, with trucks having such a size advantage over most other vehicles on the road, truck drivers may be tempted to flee the scene more often than passenger vehicle drivers.
If you were in an accident with a commercial motor vehicle and the truck driver left the scene, authorities will attempt to locate the driver, and that driver will face severe penalties if caught. If the driver is not located, you may still pursue compensation for your injuries through your own insurance policy.
Read on for more information, and talk to an experienced truck accident attorney for more information about your case.
Why Would a Driver Leave the Scene?
Due to the massive size of the vehicle they drive—with tractor-trailers generally weighing 20 to 30 times more than a passenger vehicle—and because they’re involved in interstate commerce, commercial truck drivers are held to a higher standard than other drivers. They’re required to carry more insurance and to submit to regular drug and alcohol testing, and the penalties for violating federal regulations that govern the industry can be quite harsh.
Furthermore, truck drivers put a lot of time and effort into getting their commercial driver’s license, which can be revoked for life if they’re found engaging in dangerous or prohibited behavior. Sometimes drivers take a risk by fleeing the scene of an accident to attempt to avoid the consequences and the potential loss of their livelihood.
A truck driver would leave the scene of an accident because:
- They were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is a serious offense, with state and federal laws that can result in loss of employment, hefty fines, and even loss of their commercial driver’s license if caught. Drivers may be tempted to flee the scene of an accident to allow time to pass before an alcohol content breath test is administered.
- They did not realize that the truck was in an accident. It is hard to believe that someone wouldn’t know that they were in an accident, but remember that trucks are massive. Particularly if the accident occurred in a driver’s blind spot and involved a pedestrian or a small vehicle, such as a bicycle or a motorcycle, the driver may have left the scene because they did not know the accident occurred.
- They do not have the required insurance.
- The driver was engaging in a prohibited activity, such as distracted driving, and doesn’t want to be caught.
State and Federal Penalties for Leaving the Scene
In Florida, the law requires that all drivers involved in accidents stop, render aid, and exchange information with the other drivers involved. The requirement to render aid doesn’t mean that the driver has to perform life-saving procedures. What it does mean is that they need to stop, check to see if anyone was hurt in the accident, and call for help.
The driver must also provide information such as:
- Their driver’s license number;
- Their contact information;
- The make and model of the vehicle they are driving;
- The name of their insurance carrier and insurance policy number; and
- In the case of a work-related accident, their employer’s name and contact information.
The law states that the drivers in the accident must exchange this information. If a driver is too injured to receive the information, then it must be furnished to an occupant of the injured driver’s vehicle or to the police when they arrive on the scene. The penalty for leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries is a second or third-degree felony, revocation of the person’s driver’s license for at least three years, up to five years in prison, and a $5,000 fine.
Leaving the scene of an accident that caused a fatality is a first degree felony, punishable by a license revocation of at least three years, a mandatory minimum of at least four years and up to 30 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine.
A commercial truck driver not only may face severe state penalties for leaving the scene of an accident in Florida, but may also face federal penalties as well, under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations. Upon the first conviction for leaving the scene of an accident, the driver is disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle for one year. If they are hauling hazardous materials at the time of the accident, the disqualification period is three years. A second conviction for leaving the scene of an accident will result in a lifetime revocation of the driver’s CDL.
Looking for the Driver
If you were in an accident involving a commercial truck driver who left the scene—or you witnessed this type of accident—it is important to write down as much information about the truck as you can remember. Most of these trucks display the logo of the company they drive for, along with the company’s name and phone number. Even if you’re only able to remember part of the phone number, this information can be a significant help for law enforcement authorities and your attorney. Additionally, if you can remember at least part of the license plate number, that can also help.
Witnesses and surveillance cameras are often important evidence in hit-and-run commercial truck accidents. For example, a hit-and-run truck driver was discovered after witnesses called local law enforcement to say that they thought they recognized the company logo on the truck. The trucking company then used its own technology to determine that they did, in fact, have a driver in the area at the time the accident occurred. The company itself turned the driver in, and the driver was subsequently interviewed and then arrested for leaving the scene of an accident that killed a man on a motorcycle and severely wounded his wife.
The driver of a broken down semi-truck described a driver and truck in a hit-and-run accident at a truck stop that left the mechanic working on the witness’s disabled truck dead. In Los Angeles, witnesses chased after a semi-truck involved in an accident that killed a 24-year-old bicyclist, and got pictures of the truck’s license plate. Police also got a description of the truck through a nearby surveillance camera.
In addition to these methods, police will sometimes get the public involved in the search for the missing driver through news media as well as social media. Particularly if the accident happened in a city, witnesses may have seen the accident and will come forward to talk about what they saw. Personal injury attorneys representing hit-and-run accident victims will usually conduct their own investigation into the accident and may help law enforcement authorities identify the driver involved.
If the Driver Is Located
While the percentage of hit-and-run drivers who are located is pretty small, the provision of witness details and surveillance video does sometimes result in the identification and location of the driver. If the driver is located, then there will most assuredly be law enforcement involvement, as leaving the scene of an injury accident is a felony. The accident victim is then free to pursue compensation for their injuries, including filing a personal injury claim against the driver. The victim’s attorney will look carefully at the details of the case to see who else, besides the driver, may be liable for the accident.
If the driver was employed by a company, then the company may face liability for the driver’s actions while they were on the clock. However, many truck drivers are independent contractors, meaning they provide their own truck and insurance, and pay for their own repairs. In cases involving independent contractors, it is less likely that the trucking company that contracted with the driver will be liable, unless the driver had a negative driving history or no insurance and the company failed to do its due diligence when contracting with the driver to deliver the shipment.
Other potential sources of liability that the attorney may look into can include:
- The individual or entity responsible for providing maintenance on the truck;
- The manufacturers of parts on the truck that may have malfunctioned and contributed to the accident; or
- Other drivers whose actions may have also contributed to the accident.
Regardless of whether anyone else is liable for the accident, the driver undoubtedly will face both criminal and civil liability for leaving the scene.
If the Driver Isn’t Located
If the driver of the truck is not located, the process of obtaining compensation becomes more complicated. Often, in situations like this, the victim must use their own personal injury protection insurance policy to pay for medical expenses and lost wages. Additionally, if the victim has uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, this policy may also be accessed to pay for expenses.
In Florida, a state fund compensates crime victims, which can include hit-and-run victims. Unfortunately, in 2019, the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund was struggling to remain solvent in light of decreased funding and increased requests. The funding for the program is provided through sentencing fees paid by those convicted of crimes.
While the amount of money families can receive to pay the costs of funeral expenses is unchanged, the amount of funding that a person can receive for expenses related to catastrophic injuries is expected to be cut in half. To access funds through the program, the victim must first exhaust all other resources, including their own insurance policies.
The funds are only available to victims within one year of the crime. An exception may be made to the time limit if the victim can show good cause for a delay in filing, and in these cases the victims have two years to apply for funding.
If you are having trouble paying your bills or are struggling to regain your health after a truck accident, talking to an experienced truck accident lawyer can help you learn your options for seeking compensation.
Orlando, FL 32814