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What happens if a driver flees the scene of a car accident?
In Delaware, a hit-and-run is a criminal offense. Find out what steps you need to take to avoid a hit-and-run charge, and what to do if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident.
Hit-and-run accidents can be physically and emotionally devastating for those injured in the process.
In Delaware, hit-and-run laws seek to hold accountable drivers who flee the scene without stopping to offer aid or exchange information.
This article provides an overview of Delaware's hit-and-run laws and penalties, including advice for perpetrators and victims of hit-and-run crashes.
Delaware hit-and-run statistics
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a hit-and-run crash happens somewhere in the United States every 43 seconds.
Hit-and-run accidents in Delaware are becoming more and more of a problem. According to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, there were 400 reported hit-and-run accidents in 2020 alone (the most recent year for which statistics are available).
There are roughly 750,000 licensed drivers in Delaware, driving 9.7 million miles per year. In 2021, there were 28,473 total car crashes. Of these crashes, 5,267 resulted in injuries, and 134 resulted in deaths.
Delaware hit-and-run laws
Delaware’s hit-and-run statute can be found in Title 21, Section 4201 of the Delaware Code.
Under the statute, you’re required to do three things after a crash to avoid a hit-and-run charge:
- Stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident (or as close to the scene as possible),
- Provide your name, address, registration number, and vehicle license number to any person involved in the crash, and
- Render “reasonable assistance” to anyone injured (e.g., contact emergency services).
If you collide with an unoccupied vehicle, you must:
- Stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident, and
- Locate the owner of the property or leave a written note providing your name and contact information.
Additionally, you must report the accident to the police if the accident:
- Results in injury or death,
- Occurs on a public highway and results in property damage to an apparent extent of $2,000 or more, or
- When it appears that a driver involved in the crash is impaired as a result of alcohol or drugs.
What are the penalties for a hit-and-run in Delaware?
The penalties for a hit-and-run in Delaware can be severe and depend on the nature of the accident:
|Delaware hit-and-run penalties|
|Type of crash||Fine||Jail||License suspension|
|Property-damage||$230-$1,150||60 days to 6 months||6 months|
|Injury||$1,000-$3,000||1-2 years||1-2 years|
|Death||$1,000-$10,000||1-5 years||1-2 years|
In addition to these penalties, a driver convicted of a hit-and-run will likely face increased insurance premiums.
What should I do if I fled the scene of an accident?
Although it’s never the right thing to do, there are all kinds of reasons you might flee the scene of an accident. Perhaps you didn’t realize you hit something, or maybe you didn’t have a valid driver’s license and feared the consequences.
Whatever the reason, you should contact the police and report the accident as soon as possible. Cooperating with the authorities may result in a more lenient penalty. What’s more, you may want to consider contacting an attorney to help you understand your rights and obligations. An experienced Delaware attorney may be able to negotiate a more favorable outcome.
How do I recover damages after a hit-and-run accident in Delaware?
Recovering damages after a hit-and-run accident can be challenging, particularly if the driver is never identified.
Here are some options for hit-and-run victims:
- File a civil lawsuit: If the hit-and-run driver is identified, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against them to recover damages. A skilled Delaware car accident attorney can help you navigate the legal process and recover the damages you deserve.
- Delaware Crime Victims Compensation Fund: In some cases, you may be eligible to receive financial assistance from the state-funded Delaware Crime Victims Compensation Fund. The program provides compensation to victims of violent crimes.
- Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage: UM coverage provides coverage for damages sustained as a result of an accident involving a driver who can’t be located. UM coverage is optional in Delaware.
- Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage: PIP coverage provides up to $10,000 in coverage regardless of who’s at fault. Whether or not PIP covers hit-and-run accidents depends on your specific policy.
- MedPay coverage: MedPay coverage provides coverage for medical expenses regardless of who’s at fault. Again, whether or not MedPay covers hit-and-run accidents depends on your specific policy.
Five FAQs about hit-and-run accidents in Delaware
Still don’t have the answers you’re seeking? Here are five answers to commonly asked questions about hit-and-run accidents in Delaware:
If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident, it’s essential to take the following steps to protect your rights and maximize your chances of receiving compensation: call the police, seek medical attention, gather evidence (take photos and collect contact information from any witnesses), notify your insurance company, and consult with a personal injury attorney. Keep in mind that it’s never a good idea to chase after a hit-and-run driver; doing so endangers you and others on the road.
Yes, you may still be able to recover damages through your own insurance policy's uninsured motorist coverage or by seeking assistance from the Delaware Crime Victims Compensation Program.
In Delaware, you typically have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, it is essential to consult with an attorney as soon as possible to ensure your claim is filed within the appropriate statute of limitations.
Yes, a hit-and-run driver can face criminal charges in Delaware, including fines and imprisonment, depending on the severity of the accident and the injuries sustained.
Yes, you can still pursue a civil lawsuit against the hit-and-run driver, regardless of the outcome of any criminal proceedings. A criminal conviction can also serve as evidence of negligence in your civil case.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a hit-and-run accident in Delaware, it’s crucial to seek legal guidance from a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer can help you understand your rights, navigate the legal process, and maximize your chances of recovering the compensation you deserve.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.