Generally, people run from accident scenes because they believe the consequences of staying outweigh the risk of getting caught. This decision is usually not a spur-of-the-moment calculation. Georgia has one of the highest percentages of uninsured drivers in the country. It also has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum coverage requirements in the country. Uninsured and underinsured drivers usually decided to fly the coop long before they caused a crash.
The aforementioned consequences could include civil liability and a criminal conviction. As outlined below, establishing liability in civil court usually isn’t too difficult. Establishing guilt in criminal court is another matter altogether.
A Marietta criminal defense lawyer often represents hit-and-run victims as well as hit-and-run defendants, although obviously not at the same time and for the same wreck. Car crashes usually cause serious injuries. These victims need compensation to pay medical bills and other accident-related expenses. They deserve compensation, so their dark futures become a little brighter. On the criminal side, hit-and-run charges are very serious, but they’re difficult to prove in court.
Marietta personal injury lawyers file civil claims not to blame tortfeasors (negligent drivers) for accidents, but to ensure that victims get fair compensation for their serious injuries.
Laying the Foundation
Usually, there’s little or no evidence at the scene of a hit-and-run. That means no surveillance camera in eyesight and no eyewitnesses who clearly saw the wreck. If such evidence was available, even the most frightened uninsured/underinsured motorist would probably stay and face the music. So, evidence collection is normally the first order of business in these cases. A Marietta personal injury lawyer must prove negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not, to obtain compensation. This proof usually includes:
- Nearby Camera Footage: Frequently, law enforcement investigators briefly look for a “smoking gun” image, and quickly give up if they don’t find it. Prosecutors normally need a smoking gun to prove guilt. But in civil court, an attorney only needs a partial plate number and a general vehicle description. That’s usually enough to locate the vehicle’s owner. It’s more likely than not that the owner was also the driver.
- Additional Witness Statements: The days of the helpful, friendly police officer are over. Today, most people view officers with some distrust or outright contempt. Therefore, witnesses rarely come forward and give official statements to police officers. That’s especially true if, as is usually the case, they have some skeletons in the closet. However, almost anyone will speak to a personal injury attorney, especially if the victim was badly or fatally injured.
- Stakeouts: There’s nothing glamorous or exciting about an extended stakeout, especially since there’s no guarantee Vincent Ludwig will leave the office, making a warrantless search possible. However, most people are creatures of habit. If the tortfeasor was at the corner of 4th Street and D one night, s/he’ll probably be back another night. If that happens, getting a plate number is a snap.
The proof must also establish that the tortfeasor caused the wreck. But not much proof is needed on this point. Fleeing the scene is basically an admission of responsibility.
First-party liability may be relatively straightforward in these cases. Third-party liability, or vicarious liability, is another matter.
Alcohol provider liability is perhaps the most common third-party liability theory in these cases. Restaurants, bars, and other commercial providers are vicariously liable for car wreck damages if they knowingly sell alcohol to intoxicated patrons who cause crashes. Evidence of intoxication at the point of sale includes:
- Prior purchases at that location,
- Physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes, and
- Statements the customer made to employees or patrons.
Alcohol provider liability could also apply if the provider illegally sold alcohol, perhaps to an underage person. Some common defenses, like the “s/he looked older” defense, usually don’t hod up in court, even if the customer used a very convincing fake ID card.
Damages in a car crash case usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Most civil claims settle out of court. These resolutions give victim/plaintiffs more control over the outcome and end cases sooner, so victims can move on with their lives sooner.
Georgia’s version of the hit-and-run law requires all motorists, whether or not they were at fault for an injury-causing crash, to stop, turn over personal information, including name, address, and drivers’ license information, and provide “reasonable assistance” to injured victims. The law doesn’t include a requirement to exchange insurance information.
The burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond any reasonable doubt. Usually, unless a credible eyewitness got a good look at the driver, prosecutors cannot meet this burden of proof.
A credible witness is a disinterested witness who has no prior convictions for a crime of moral turpitude, like passing a bad check. A “good look” usually means viewing the driver’s face for at least a half-second. A camera is also an effective witness, assuming the camera was working properly, and a human authenticated the footage.
Just like most civil cases settle out of court, most criminal cases settle out of court. Once again, these resolutions benefit defendants.
Fatal hit-and-run is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Otherwise, hit-and-run is a misdemeanor punishable by up to twelve months in jail. Frequently, a Marietta personal injury attorney convinces prosecutors to reduce the charges. Felony hit-and-run becomes misdemeanor hit-and-run, and misdemeanor hit-and-run becomes something like reckless driving or reckless conduct.
These reductions reduce the penalty. They also don’t have the same collateral consequences as hit-and-run. Such a conviction raises insurance rates by as much as 177 percent.
Hit-and-run wrecks often have consequences in civil and criminal court. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.