Hit and Run Penalties
Leaving the scene of an accident, commonly known as a hit-and-run, can seem insignificant in the case of a minor accident, but in Massachusetts it can be a serious criminal offense. Under Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 90 sec. 24(2)(a), someone who is involved in an auto accident and then leaves the scene is subject to one of three different realms of penalty. Each crime involves different elements and carries significantly different penalties; the difference stems from whether only property damage occurred, whether there was personal injury, or whether someone died as a result of the accident.
The property damage provision is typically the least serious of these crimes. It states that it is a crime to knowingly be involved in an automotive accident that damages a car or other property, if you fail to stop and give your name, address, and vehicle registration. A property damage hit-and-run conviction carries a $20-$200 fine or a jail term of 2 weeks to 2 years.
Although these charges might seem simple to prove, the prosecution needs to establish a number of elements before you may be found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident. These elements include:
- You operated a vehicle,
- The vehicle was on a public road,
- While you operated the vehicle, it collided with another vehicle or other property,
- You knew the accident occurred, and
- You did not stop and give your name, address, and registration number.
In some cases, there will be opportunities to show the prosecution cannot prove one of these requirements. For example, a witness might claim that a particular car was involved in an accident, but that does not mean that the car’s owner was driving at the time, even if that particular car was involved. There can also be doubt raised as to whether a vehicle caused the damage.
The hit-and-run personal injury provision is largely identical to the property damage section. The difference is that it only applies if the collision injures someone, short of the person’s death. Injuring someone in a car wreck and leaving the scene carries 6 months to 2 years in jail in addition to a fine of $500-$2,000.
The final and most serious hit-and-run charge is when the accident results in someone’s death. Again, the elements of this crime are similar to the two above, except that a death must occur and the defendant must leave the scene to avoid prosecution or evade apprehension. This crime carries 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $5,000.
In any event, having previous convictions, especially for driving offenses like reckless endangerment or DUI, can result in a harsher sentence for a hit-and-run conviction.
Leaving the scene of an accident could also subject you to a civil lawsuit. If you were found guilty of hit-and-run in a criminal case, this would increase your chances of having to pay the victim for civil damages. If someone were injured in the incident, the victim’s potentially huge medical bills and costs for pain and suffering could result in the defendant being liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if the jury viewed the hit-and-run as an aggravating factor.