How to recover damages when the driver flees the scene without stopping
Pennsylvania is known for the declaration of independence, the liberty bell, and... hit-and-run accidents?
A hit-and-run is when a driver hits another vehicle, person, or piece of property and then flees the scene without stopping to provide their personal information. In Pennsylvania (particularly in Philadelphia) hit-and-run accidents happen at an alarming rate.
This article looks at some important hit-and-run statistics, the laws that apply, and what to do if you're involved in a hit-and-run accident in the Keystone State.
Hit-and-run accidents are a problem throughout the United States. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, approximately 4.6 out of every 10,000 motorists have at least 1 prior hit-and-run violation, and more than 1 hit-and-run crash occurs every 60 seconds.
Pennsylvania is no stranger to hit-and-run accidents, many of them fatal.
In Philadelphia, hit-and-run crashes are particularly problematic.
According to one report, the Philadelphia Police Department receives nearly 40 hit-and-run calls every day. In 2017 and 2018, local police took reports for almost 29,000 hit-and-run accidents.
"That's a decision," Philadelphia Police Captain Mark Overwise says of fleeing a crash scene. "And as a society, we shouldn't tolerate it."
Wondering if you should avoid a particular street?
Roosevelt Boulevard, a major traffic artery through North and Northeast Philadelphia, accounted for the most hit-and-run accidents in all of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania hit-and-run laws
Pennsylvania laws concerning hit-and-run accidents can be found in Title 75 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code. The actual text of the law can be kind of dense, so here are the basics of what you need to know:
The driver of any vehicle involved in a motor vehicle accident that results in injury or property damage (even if the damaged vehicle is parked and unoccupied) is required by law to:
- Stop their vehicle at the scene or as close to the scene as possible,
- Provide their name, address, registration number, and driver's license to others involved in the accident (or leave a note with the information if the car is unoccupied), and
- Assist any injured persons.
When do I have to report a crash?
In Pennsylvania, you're required to file a report within 5 days of the accident if:
- The accident was not investigated by the police, and
- The accident resulted in death, injury, or severe damage to any vehicle.
To file a report, you'll need to complete the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Driver's Accident Report form and mail it to the address listed on the form.
To complete the form, it's helpful if you have the following information handy:
- Make, model, and body style of all the vehicles involved
- License plate numbers
- Vehicle identification numbers (VIN)
- Description of the damage
- Name, address, and phone numbers of all the parties involved
- Insurance policy numbers of all the parties involved
Penalties for a hit-and-run in Pennsylvania
The penalties for leaving the scene of an accident in Pennsylvania depend in large part on the severity of the accident.
If the accident only resulted in property damage and you fled the scene, you could be convicted of a 3rd-degree misdemeanor and face:
- Up to 1 year in prison
- A fine up to $2,500
If the accident resulted in injuries, you could be convicted of a 3rd-degree felony and face:
- A minimum 90-day jail sentence (with a potential jail sentence of up to 7 years)
- A minimum $1,000 fine
If the accident resulted in death, you could be convicted of a 2nd-degree felony and face:
- A minimum of 3 years in prison (with a potential prison sentence of up to 7 years)
- A minimum $2,500 fine
In addition to these penalties, you risk losing your license temporarily or permanently.
What to do if you're the VICTIM of a hit-and-run accident
Knowing what to do after a hit-and-run accident is more about knowing what not to do.
If you're involved in a hit-and-run accident, DON'T chase after a fleeing driver.
Not only is chasing after a fleeing driver extremely dangerous, but you may miss key witnesses if you leave the scene.
Instead, take the following steps:
- Contact emergency services. Your health should be your first priority. If you're injured, call an ambulance (911). You'll also want to contact the police and explain that you were involved in a hit-and-run. The police will write a report and attempt to track down the driver.
- Collect information. Gather as much information about the driver, car, and accident as possible, including the license plate number, a description of the vehicle, the direction the vehicle was headed, and photos of the accident scene.
- Locate witnesses. Did anybody see the accident? What about people in nearby vehicles? What about people waiting for the bus nearby? How about people working in the surrounding buildings? Identify any potential witnesses and collect their contact information.
There are many reasons why a person might flee the scene of a crash. For example:
- The driver is intoxicated or driving under the influence of drugs
- The driver is driving with a suspended license
- The driver doesn't have car insurance
- There is an outstanding warrant for the driver's arrest
- The car is stolen
- The driver didn't realize they were in an accident
What to do if you were the DRIVER who fled the accident scene
While fleeing the scene of an accident is unequivocally the wrong decision, it is a common impulse. You may fear that the other driver will retaliate if you stop. Or, you may have tried to move your vehicle to a safe spot and lost track of the other vehicle in the process.
Whatever the reason, fleeing the scene of an accident is serious. If you've made this mistake, we recommend you contact a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to talk about how to make things right while still protecting your legal rights.
How do I receive damages if I can't identify the hit-and-run driver?
Pennsylvania is unique in that it allows drivers to purchase no-fault insurance (sometimes called “limited tort” insurance) or fault-based insurance (sometimes called “full tort” insurance).
If you purchased no-fault insurance, you can turn to your own insurance company to cover the damages for a hit-and-run accident. If you purchased fault-based insurance coverage, however, things get more complicated.
Hopefully, the police (or your lawyer) will be able to track down the driver responsible. If they are found, you can file a claim with their insurance provider or file a personal injury lawsuit against them.
However, if you have fault-based coverage and you never find the driver, your insurance policy might still provide compensation depending on whether you purchased certain optional coverage. Examples of optional coverage that might cover hit-and-run damages include:
- Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. UM coverage provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage sustained by you or the passengers in your vehicle as a result of an accident involving an uninsured driver or a driver who can't be located.
- Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. PIP coverage provides up to $10,000 in coverage, regardless of who's at fault.
- MedPay coverage. MedPay coverage provides coverage for medical expenses incurred by you and your passengers, regardless of who is at fault.