There is a story behind every accident. Some of the most upsetting car accident stories are those that involve a hit-and-run. Our Panama City hit-and-run injury lawyer has heard many excuses from those who fled after a crash, ranging from claims of panic, to suggesting they were unaware anyone was hurt, or that they planned to call for help from their destination. It is rare to hear an excuse we find acceptable. Still, we want those injured in hit-and-run crashes to know that we are here to fight for their right to full and fair compensation.
This week, WJHG covered a press conference during which Pam Bondi, Florida's Attorney General, announced support for pending proposals to strengthen penalties for hit-and-run drivers. In 2013, Panama City police worked a disturbing 399 hit-and-run cases, and Panama City Beach officers responded to 499. Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman attributed the higher figure to increased traffic in tourist season, noting that PCB has 12 million visitors in addition to the 14,000 full-time residents.
Discussing a recent example, Sergeant Jon Morris with the Panama City Police Department described a crash at the intersection of 15th and Frankford where a driver hailed a cab and attempted to leave the scene. The fleeing driver was apprehended, identified as 29-year-old Jessica Ashbaker, and charged with multiple counts, including DUI. Morris notes that being under the influence is a common reason drivers run, adding that a lack of a license or car insurance as other motivating factors.
There is another factor that may prompt drivers to flee – Florida's current penalty scheme. Under current law, there is a 4-year minimum sentence for DUI manslaughter, compared to a significantly lighter sentence for fleeing from the scene of a fatal crash. At the recent press conference, Bondi expressed her support for a bill that would make leaving the scene of a fatal crash subject to a minimum 4-year sentence. She noted it is especially important to be vigilant given that Florida is a tourist destination.
Florida law is clear in mandating that a driver who is involved in an accident must stop at the scene or as close to the scene as is safe. If the accident involves only property damage, failing to stop is a misdemeanor under Section 316.061 of the Florida Statute. The same failure becomes a felony in cases where the accident caused injury or death to another individual. Both sections reference the same set of duties (Section 316.062), requiring a driver to provide certain identifying information to the injured individual, the owner of damaged property, and/or a police officer. A driver involved in an injury crash must also provide "reasonable assistance" to the injured if medical treatment appears necessary, including arranging for transportation to such treatment services.
Our Panama City injury law office helps people injured by hit-and-run drivers. When the driver is identified and located, this often means bringing a personal injury claim against the responsible party. Most of these cases settle well before trial, but we are always prepared to go to trial if necessary. When the driver is not found, compensation generally comes from the injured person's own uninsured motorist coverage ("UM"). A common part of auto insurance policies, UM provisions covers the named driver and also passengers or family members, including in cases where the insured is a pedestrian. If, as is all too common, your insurance company refuses to pay a legitimate claim or if they offer an unfairly low amount of compensation, our office can help you bring a coverage claim.
Whether or not the driver is located, those injured in hit-and-run collisions should contact an injury attorney as soon as possible. Remember: never sign anything until you've reviewed it with your lawyer. At The Pittman Firm, an initial consultation is always free, and there are no fees unless you receive compensation for your injuries.