Defenses to a Hit and Run: Urgent Need for Medical Care

Ideally you won't leave the scene of an accident without at least stopping, checking on the damage to the other vehicle, seeing if anyone needs help and giving the other driver your contact and insurance information. But that doesn't happen all the time and sometimes there are good reasons why not. One of those reasons is the need for urgent medical care.

Under California law a hit and run accident occurs if a driver leaves the scene of an accident without checking on the other vehicle, seeing if anyone needs help and or providing contact information to the other driver. You need to provide "reasonable assistance" including calling an ambulance, depending on the circumstances.

The Burden is on the Prosecution to Prove the Allegations

The legal definition of misdemeanor, potential jail time is up to a year, hit and run in the California Vehicle Code (VEH § 20002) states,

  • The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident causing only damage to property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop and,

    • Find and notify the owner or person in charge of the property of his or her name and address and, upon finding the driver of any other vehicle involved or the owner or person in charge of any damaged property, after being requested, present his or her driver's license and vehicle registration, or,

    • Leave in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or the damaged property a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle involved, and a statement of the circumstances of the accident, and without unnecessary delay notify the police department of the city where the collision occurred or, if it happened in an unincorporated territory, the local headquarters of the Department of the California Highway Patrol.

  • Any person failing to comply with all the requirements of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon a conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.

Under a different section of the vehicle code if there's a similar situation where there's an injury or death to someone other than the driver in question, it would be a felony offense. The prosecution needs to show willful actions by the defendant, which opens it up to potential defenses. Willfully failing to perform a statutorily required duty means you intentionally chose not to perform them. It need not mean you intended to break the law or benefit yourself in some way.

Circumstances May be Enough to Legally Justify Leaving the Scene of an Accident

If you leave the scene in order to receive urgently needed medical care for yourself or someone else it could be a valid argument you didn't willfully fail to perform the actions required by law. That need was greater than the legal obligation to stay, though, ideally, if possible, a driver should leave at least contact information before leaving.

The need to show a willfulness in failing to perform duties can also be impacted by other circumstances. It simply may not have been safe for the driver to remain at the scene of the accident. The other driver, passengers or bystanders showed signs that the situation could get out of control and pose a danger to yourself or your passengers. It's not uncommon for people to become upset and angry after an accident, even if during their normal lives they cope well with daily stress.

Depending on the roadway or highway where the accident occurred it simply may not be safe to stay there. There may be no break down lane, no safe space for you to stay while dangerous traffic speeds by. Bad weather conditions may make a hazardous situation worse.

Effective Representation That Protects You Gets Winning Results

At Hoffman & Associates, we sincerely care about our clients and will go the extra mile to achieve the best results possible in every case, which for many is the fact no criminal charges are brought. Our lawyers regularly work with law enforcement to resolve accidents and appear in courts throughout California, including the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, when necessary. Contact us today and put our expertise to work for you.

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