What to do and where to turn if you or your vehicle were hit and the driver fled the scene
Leaving the scene of an accident in Tennessee is a hit-and-run
Leaving the scene of a crash results in a hit-and-run charge in Tennessee. Penalties range from Class C misdemeanor for minor property damage to a Class A misdemeanor, including jail time, fines and license suspension if a person is injured. This could include up to 11 months, 29 days in jail and a fine up to $2,500. If the victim dies, the charge could be upgraded to vehicular manslaughter, with a sentence of up to eight to 30 years in prison.
Tennessee law requires a driver to seek out the owner of the other vehicle or property if they’re not already available. If you can’t locate the owner, you must leave a note with information about the accident, how to contact you, and your driver’s license number.
A hit and run is an accident where the driver knowingly leaves the scene without providing contact information to the victim.
A hit and run is any crash — from minor to serious — whether it involves a car in motion or a parked vehicle.
The premise of personal injury law is that everyone has a duty to another person. Yes, you can have a duty to someone you don’t even know, and this duty changes from minute to minute depending on what’s going on around you and what activities you’re doing.
For example, a doctor has a duty of care to a patient, a teacher has a duty to their students, a store owner has a duty to keep shoppers safe, a manufacturer has a duty to purchasers of its products, and an employer has a duty to prevent harm to employees. These are all duty relationships among people who have a connection to one another.
And that’s not all...
A pedestrian has a duty to look where they’re going in order to avoid causing injury to other pedestrians or people using the sidewalks or roads, and a driver has a duty to all other road users. That means following rules and laws, maintaining reasonable speed, properly signaling, and driving in a way that’s not dangerous or reckless.
But there’s another duty, too, which is the duty to stop.
Tennessee requirement to stop after a car accident
If you’ve caused an accident, you’re required to:
- Stop as soon as possible and remain at the scene.
- Share contact and insurance information with any other drivers or people affected.
- Wait for law enforcement to arrive.
If someone was injured, you must provide reasonable assistance until first responders arrive.
There are 2 sides to a hit and run claim: The victim (injured person) and the driver who left the scene.
Does insurance cover a hit and run?
First, a few basics about Tennessee car accident law.
Tennessee is an at-fault state, which means that the person who causes a car accident is legally responsible for the costs of the accident for all people involved. It’s also a comparative negligence state, which means each person is assigned a percentage of liability for the accident.
A driver who is more than 50% at fault cannot recover damages in a lawsuit.
This matters, even in a hit and run, because it’s possible that the person who caused the accident isn’t the person who fled the scene.
Why would someone who wasn’t at fault flee the scene?
Every scenario is different, but there might be situations when a person doesn’t want to be connected to an accident, even if they’re not at fault.
For example, you could have a collision with someone who wasn’t at fault but:
- Was driving without a valid license and doesn’t want to be caught,
- Was driving another person’s car without permission,
- Was driving without insurance, or
- Thought they caused the crash and fled because they were afraid of the repercussions.
There are plenty of reasons why a driver might not want to be included in a police report, even if they didn’t cause the accident.
Still, if you caused an accident, you need to file a police report even if the other driver isn’t available and you can’t exchange information with them directly. Filing a police report will protect you from being charged with a hit-and-run violation.
Uninsured motorist insurance coverage
Tennessee does not require you to carry uninsured motorist insurance coverage. However, you can choose uninsured motorist coverage as additional peace of mind in the event that you’re in an accident with an uninsured driver or a hit and run.
Uninsured motorist coverage doesn’t apply to vehicle damage but would cover expenses associated with your injuries if the driver who hit you can’t be identified or located.
4 steps to take after a hit and run accident
1. Call the police.
Never try to pursue a hit and run driver on your own. You have no idea if the person is armed, drunk, or dangerous. Make note of their appearance and identity, but don’t chase.
Law enforcement has ways of finding and identifying people. Even if they can’t figure out who it was, the accident report will be essential to your insurance claim.
2. Obtain medical treatment.
Even if you don’t think you were injured, it’s important to get a medical evaluation after any accident, no matter how small (unless the hit and run involved your parked car and you weren’t inside). You can either see your primary care provider or go to a hospital or urgent care center.
Some injuries don’t show symptoms right away — conditions like whiplash, back and neck injuries, head injuries, and other conditions can take days or weeks to become noticeable. If your condition immediately after the accident isn’t documented, it will be difficult to prove that the injuries are related to the accident.
3. Gather evidence.
“Evidence” is any information that can be used to prove your claim. This might be witness statements, a police report, photos or video, or any other documents or details that can help demonstrate to the court how the accident happened.
The police report is important, but it’s the police’s job to document what they observe — not necessarily to determine who was liable and for what. You can take accident photos of the damage, the hit and run driver’s car, or anything else that might be relevant.
If you see the accident happen, take note of the driver’s license plate number, make and model of the vehicle, and maybe even the driver’s appearance if possible.
If there are other people present at the scene, take their names and contact information as witnesses. Also, if the hit and run happens in a parking lot or on the street involving a parked car, check with businesses nearby to see if there’s any surveillance footage that might’ve captured the accident.
4. Call your insurance company.
Most insurance companies require that you file a report within a specific amount of time, or you could lose your ability to recover from a claim. Even if you don’t know who hit you, you should still file a report with your insurance company.
What if YOU hit a parked car?
If you’re involved in any kind of Tennessee car accident, you must leave information so the owner of the damaged car or property can contact you. If you can’t identify the car’s owner immediately, you can leave a note.
Be sure to include the following:
- The time, date, and location of the accident
- Your vehicle’s license plate number and registration number
- Your name and address
- Your driver’s license number
You should also call the police to make a report.
It’s a good idea to keep some “supplies” in your car, just in case you do ever have a collision and the owner isn’t available. A waterproof marker, paper, and a plastic bag will do the trick. You can write a note and leave it under the car’s windshield wiper just so there are no questions about whether you followed your due diligence.
Are there defenses to a hit-and-run charge?
Depending on the circumstances, a criminal defense lawyer might be able to make the argument that you’re not guilty of a hit-and-run.
Four common hit-and-run defenses include:
- You didn’t know you were involved in an accident.
- You weren’t aware that the accident caused personal injury or property damage.
- You left the scene only to get help and then returned.
- You’re being falsely accused or mistakenly identified.
Tennessee hit and run penalties
If the damage amount was less than $400
Class C misdemeanor: Up to 30 days in jail, $50 fine, driver’s education classes.
If the damage amount was more than $400
Class C misdemeanor: Up to 30 days in jail, $50 fine, and license suspension.
If the accident resulted in physical injury or death
Class A misdemeanor: Up to 1 year in jail, fines up to $2,500, and license suspension. If the court finds that you should’ve known the accident could result in death, you could be charged with a felony and sentenced to up to 1-6 years in prison.
When do I call a lawyer after a Tennessee hit and run accident?
If you hit another car or damaged property and you didn’t stop and provide information or file a police report, your first call should be to a criminal defense lawyer. Some people don’t intend to commit a crime, but they panic in the moment and leave the scene because they don’t know what to do. It happens. If that’s your situation, a criminal defense lawyer might be able to help you minimize charges.
If you’ve discovered that your car was hit and you don’t know by whom, or if you were hit and the driver left the scene, you can consult a personal injury lawyer. A Tennessee personal injury lawyer can work with the insurance companies, police department, and any other relevant parties to figure out how you can recover damages.
For any personal injury accident, you could recover damages to cover costs that include:
- Medical treatment, including doctor or hospital visits, prescription medications, surgeries, and other expenses related to the accident.
- Lost wages or loss of future earning capacity if the accident requires you to take time off from work.
- Ongoing therapies or treatments.
- Pain and suffering or other emotional distress.
- Punitive damages, if the accident is so severe that the court intends to punish the defendant for especially malicious or reckless behavior.
- Wrongful death, if you’ve lost a family member in a hit and run accident.
Insurance might not be clear-cut in a hit and run accident if you’re not able to identify the driver. Even if you do identify the person, sometimes a driver leaves the scene because they don’t have insurance. If you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage on your own policy, your only recourse might be a lawsuit against the other driver. However, sometimes even that doesn’t work because it can happen that an uninsured driver also doesn’t have enough assets to cover a judgment in a lawsuit.
That’s why your lawyer’s advice will be the best tool you have to recover compensation after a Tennessee hit and run. Based on the specific facts of your case, they’ll advise you on what your legal options are and how to proceed.