Whether you fled the scene or you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident, there are some steps you should take
St. Louis University High School teacher Steve Aylward was struck and killed while walking near the intersection of McNair Avenue and Gravois Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri.
What made the death of the beloved 72-year-old history teacher all the more devastating was that the driver fled the scene without stopping.
Tragically, hit-and-runs happen all the time in the Show Me State.
In this article, we’ll take a look at Missouri hit-and-run accidents, including the steps you need to take to avoid a hit-and-run charge, the penalties for committing a hit-and-run, and whether hit-and-run victims and their families can recover damages.
Why do hit-and-run accidents happen?
Hit-and-run accidents are more common than you might think.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a hit-and-run crash occurs every 60 seconds in the United States.
Here in Missouri, people are killed each year in fatal hit-and-runs—increasingly so in recent years.
|Missouri hit-and-run crashes involving at least 1 fatality (2006-2016)|
|Source: AAA Foundation|
A driver may flee the scene of an accident for all sorts of reasons. Here are some of the most common reasons:
- The driver is afraid of being held liable for the accident
- The driver is afraid of confronting the other driver
- The driver is uninsured
- The driver is unlicensed
- The driver is intoxicated
- The driver does not realize they struck someone
The profile of a typical hit-and-run driver is a young male with a history of driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges or license suspension. However, anyone can make the mistake of fleeing the accident scene.
What steps do I need to take to avoid a hit-and-run charge in Missouri?
Here’s what you need to do if you’re involved in an accident that causes property damage, injury, or death:
- Stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident (or as close to the scene as possible),
- Provide your name, address, motor vehicle number, and driver’s license number to any person involved in the crash,
- Render reasonable assistance to anyone injured, and
- Report the accident to the local police (if someone suffered an injury or died, the other driver was uninsured, or more than $500 of property damage was sustained).
If the vehicle you hit was unoccupied (or you hit a fixed object), you must leave a note with your information at the scene and report the accident to the police.
What are the penalties for a hit-and-run in Missouri?
According to a report published by the AAA Foundation, roughly half of all hit-and-run drivers are eventually identified.
The penalties for a hit-and-run depend on the damages caused by the accident:
|Missouri penalties for a hit-and-run|
|Accident resulted in damages under $1,000||Class A misdemeanor||Up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $2,000|
|Accident resulted in damages in excess of $1,000, physical injury, or you were previously convicted of a hit-and-run||Class E||Up to 4 years in state prison|
|Accident resulted in death||Class D||Up to 7 years in state prison|
Keep in mind that the penalties listed above are only criminal penalties. You may still be held civilly liable for the accident.
What’s more, even if you weren’t responsible for causing the accident, you face an uphill battle in a civil case because insurance companies, judges, and juries are typically less inclined to believe a fleeing driver when it comes to the details of an accident.
What should I do if I fled the scene of an accident?
Fleeing the scene of an accident is always the wrong decision. Nevertheless, if you’re reading this section, it’s probably because you’ve already fled the scene of an accident.
So what should you do now?
If the vehicle you hit is still at the scene of the accident, return to the scene and complete the steps described above to avoid a hit-and-run charge.
If the vehicle you hit is no longer at the scene of the accident, call the local police and report the accident. Although you may still be charged with a hit-and-run, the judge may sentence you favorably based on the fact that you reported the accident.
What should I do if I’m the victim of a hit-and-run accident?
First things first, do not chase after the driver. Chasing after a fleeing driver puts you and everyone else on the road in danger. Instead, follow these 5 steps:
- Move your vehicle to a safe spot off the road.
- Take a deep breath.
- Call the police and provide them with any information you have about the hit-and-run vehicle (make, model, color, license plate, distinguishing features, physical description of the driver, etc.).
- Take photographs of the accident scene and any damages.
- Collect witness contact information.
How do I recover damages if I’m the victim of a hit-and-run accident?
If the police are able to track down the hit-and-run driver, you can file an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit against the driver just as you would in any other car accident. Fortunately, you may still be able to recover damages even if the police are unable to track down the hit-and-run driver.
In Missouri, drivers are required to purchase uninsured motorist coverage. Coverage minimums are set at $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. Hit-and-run drivers are considered “uninsured drivers.” Accordingly, you can file a claim under your uninsured motorist policy.
Just like any other car accident, it’s important to gather evidence after the accident even though the other driver involved fled. Evidence that can be helpful includes witness contact information, photographs of the scene, and photographs of any damages.
Do I need an attorney if I’m involved in a hit-and-run accident?
If you’re the fleeing driver in a hit-and-run accident, you should reach out to a criminal defense attorney.
If you’re the victim, whether or not you need an attorney depends on the nature of your injuries. If you sustained serious injuries, it’s almost always a good idea to meet with an attorney. An attorney can help you locate the fleeing driver or, if the driver cannot be located, an attorney can help you negotiate with the insurance company to make sure you get all of the damages you deserve.