Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious offense, but police rarely investigate traffic accidents where there’s minimal property damage and no physical injuries. The victim or witnesses can (and should) file a police report, but it’s unlikely that the police will launch an investigation unless somebody was injured.
However, while the police may be reluctant to launch an investigation into a minor hit and run, auto insurance companies usually do.
Providing there is enough evidence to track down the guilty party, the victim’s insurance company will do everything in its power to get in contact with the perpetrator’s insurance company and demand payment. If the guilty party or their insurance provider refuse to comply, the insurance company may press for criminal charges and/or sue for damages in civil court.
That said, most victims of a minor hit and run choose to take care of the vehicle damages privately rather than report it to their auto insurance provider and risk higher monthly premiums. This is especially the case when the damages are less than the owner’s out-of-pocket deductible. As the average auto insurance policy has a deductible of $500, it’s safe to say that minor traffic accidents with less than $500 in damages rarely result in an investigation.
Arizona Hit and Run Laws
Essential things to know if you’re involved in a hit and run:
- Never leave the scene of a minor car accident without leaving your contact info at minimum
- If you are in a serious accident, call the police immediately
- If you are the victim in a hit and run, consider contacting a personal injury attorney
- Contact a criminal defense attorney to represent you if you’ve been charged with a hit and run
Drivers in Arizona have a legal obligation to stop anytime they are involved in an accident. If you are unable to stop immediately, you must return to the scene of the accident as soon as possible. Failure to do so is considered leaving the scene of an accident and can carry serious penalties, especially if somebody was injured in the accident.
Arizona law specifically states that individuals who are involved in an accident must provide their name, address, and registration to the other driver or responding police officer. You are also required to show the other driver or responding police officer your driver’s license upon request (ARS 28-663).
The default charge for leaving the scene of an accident is a class 3 misdemeanor, which can include up to 30 days in jail and $500 in fines. If the accident resulted in serious physical injury or death, the charge can be upgraded to a felony. Depending on the circumstances, a felony hit and run charge could be a classified as a class 2 – 5 felony.
What to Do If You are Involved in a Hit and Run
It’s never a good idea to leave the scene of an accident without at least leaving your contact information. If the damage is substantial, you may even want to call the police to cover your bases and avoid a hit and run charge. Your auto insurance premium will probably go up and you may need to compensate the other driver for their out-of-pocket costs, but this is far better than having to deal with a misdemeanor or felony hit and run charge.
If you were recently in an accident where you left the scene of the crime and the police or the other driver’s insurance company contacts you to press charges or seek repayment, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Do not admit fault, offer an alibi, or even speak with the approaching party—this is best handled by your attorney once you have crafted a defense.
In rare cases where you are arrested, remember that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, and it’s always in your best interests to exercise both of these rights immediately.
What to Do If You are the Victim of a Minor Hit and Run
Unless you want to avoid reporting the damage to your insurance company (which some people do to avoid higher insurance premiums), your first call should be to the police. The dispatcher may not send an officer to your location, but they should at least create a police report.
Next, take the police report to your insurance company and file a claim. The insurance company should be able to handle the case from here, and they will decide if it’s worth the effort to track down the guilty party. Once you file the claim, you have no further obligation to the matter.
What to Do if You are the Victim of a Serious Hit and Run
Local police may not investigate minor hit and run accidents, but they take the matter very seriously when there is substantial property damage, injuries, or fatalities. In these cases, you can rest assured that the police will do everything in their power to find the guilty party and bring them to justice.
Thanks to the prevalence of video surveillance, the odds are in your favor that a nearby business, resident, or traffic camera caught the guilty party fleeing the scene.
Once the police track down the guilty party, you have the right to file a civil lawsuit against the driver and their insurance company to recover damages. At the same time, your auto insurance provider will likely file a lawsuit of their own.
When you meet with a personal injury attorney to evaluate your case, it helps to bring documentation of the damages that you’ve suffered as a result of the accident. This can include medical bills, ambulance bills, medication, counseling, therapy, and evidence of lost wages from the time you’ve spent away from work. You may also seek damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of companionship, and (if applicable) wrongful death.
What to Do If You Witness a Hit and Run
Statistically, most hit and run cases are actually reported by eyewitnesses. In most cases, it’s fine to just leave your name and contact information on the victim’s vehicle, and let them decide whether they want to file a police report. Eyewitnesses don’t have a legal obligation to call the police for minor traffic accidents, so there’s no danger in handling it this way.
If you decide that it’s best to file a police report as an eyewitness, you can call the local police station’s non-emergency line and speak with a dispatcher. Depending on the property damage, the dispatcher may send out a police officer, or they may just take your report over the phone. Either way, the police will have your statement and contact information on file, so the insurance company or the victim can reach out to you if necessary.
Reduce Your Charges with JacksonWhite Law
If you were involved in a hit and run accident and fled the scene, it’s important to have a strong legal team that can explore all possible defenses. At JacksonWhite Law, we understand the severity of hit and run accidents and can work to reduce your penalties and keep you out of jail.
Our experienced legal team has helped clients around the valley – in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale and other cities – make the most of their day in court. When you need superior legal help, contact the Mesa criminal defense attorneys at JacksonWhite Law today.
Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.