It just got harder in Florida to prove guilt of hit-and-run in criminal court.
The Florida Supreme Court, in its decision in Florida v. Dorsett, ruled that in order for prosecutors to secure a conviction in a criminal hit-and-run case, they must prove the accused had “actual knowledge” of being involved in a crash.
The underlying case involves a Boca Raton hit-and-run crash that nearly killed a 15-year-old in 2007. What this ruling, now applied to all future criminal hit-and-run cases, means is prosecutors can’t argue a driver intentionally and willfully left a crash scene unless it’s proven to a jury the driver knew about the impact in the first place.
In most cases, proof may be established by the degree of property damage to the vehicle. In many hit-and-run cases, there is vehicle damage, so hopefully, the impact of the new law won’t be as severe as initially feared.
Following a law passed last year, the penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run accident is a minimum mandatory four years in prison – same as what one would face for DUI manslaughter. The law was intended to close the gap that creates initiative for drunk drivers to flee the scene. Still, our Boca Raton injury lawyers know hit-and-run crashes continue to be a growing problem in South Florida. For example, in Palm Beach County, the number of hit-run accidents rose from 6,135 in 2013 to 6,693 in 2014. In Broward, the figure increased from 9,220 in 2013 to 9,749 in 2014. During the same time frame, hit-and-run crashes in Miami-Dade increased from 16,055 to 17,479.
Statewide, authorities estimate some 78,500 motorist took off from a crash scene in 2013. The following year, the number rose to 84,000.
This has left thousands of people in Florida seriously injured. Some died as a result of their wounds – sometimes as a direct result of not receiving prompt medical attention. This is the whole reason why we have a hit-and-run law in place. It’s actually referred to in Florida statutes as “failure to stop and render aid.”
Drivers have many reasons for leaving the scene of a crash – they are drunk, don’t have a license, don’t have permission to drive the vehicle, don’t have insurance or may be wanted for some other crime. However, most may not realize leaving the scene of a crash in and of itself can be a felony – regardless of who was at fault in the crash.
While the update in criminal law should not have much impact on civil cases, it’s worth noting because there are such a large number of hit-and-run crash victims in the state. The burden of proof in civil negligence litigation is lower than in the criminal sector. That means plaintiff attorneys will not necessarily have to prove “actual knowledge” in order to secure a judgment against defendant for compensation.
In cases where a hit-and-run driver is never found, injured persons or surviving loved ones can pursue compensation through uninsured motorist coverage, which is a service provided through their own auto insurance carrier. It’s primary use is intended for when an at-fault driver in a crash is not insured. However, it is also used in hit-and-run cases. There is also underinsured motorist coverage, for cases when the driver may have been caught, but only carries a base-level insurance policy that doesn’t cover all of victims’ expenses.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Florida v. Dorsett, Feb. 26, 2015, Florida Supreme Court
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Report: Older Drivers Not Unsafe, New Study to Assess Aging Driver Needs, Feb. 26, 2015, Boca Raton Car Accident Lawyer Blog