Straight Up, Now Tell Me, Is It Just a Hit-and-Run

As the weather warms up, we’re all hitting the roads more frequently to attend our favorite spring and summer activities. We’re just as excited as you are to come out of hibernation this spring! With increased traffic (and perhaps nasal) congestion, however, comes increased risk of car crashes. In the state of Tennessee, drivers have a duty after an automobile accident to stop to render aid, exchange information, and file a report. Failing to meet these legal requirements can incur criminal charges, exacerbate personal injury lawsuits, and even impact insurance coverage. So, what are your responsibilities after an automobile accident in Tennessee? How can you understand and avoid criminal charges for leaving the scene of an accident?

Garth Best was extremely helpful in my case. He explored and explained everything to me clearly and never stopped checking out every option. I am absolutely grateful I chose him as my attorney. Best and Brock are a great choice for representation. Thanks again.

- Jeremy Forgey

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Driver’s Duty to Render Aid and Share Information

T.C.A. §55-10-103 mandates that following any accident involving injury, death, or damage to a vehicle, the drivers of any involved vehicles must stop to exchange information and render aid to other involved parties. Pieces of information drivers will be expected to produce include vehicle registration, their own name and address, and their driver’s license. If anyone was injured in the wreck, the drivers of the vehicle(s) involved are obligated to provide reasonable assistance, including transporting that person to the hospital or calling an ambulance. What if there’s no one in the other vehicle? That doesn’t alleviate drivers’ responsibility to stop. T.C.A. §55-10-104 addresses automobile accidents involving an unattended vehicle. When drivers collide with parked cars, they are legally responsible for stopping to locate or otherwise notify the operator or owner of that vehicle. If the driver cannot speak to the owner or operator of the parked vehicle, they are required to leave a written note stating their name and address, along with a statement of the circumstances. In addition, these written notices must include an explanation of the car owner’s and/or driver’s insurance carrier and policy. If a driver strikes a fixture, rather than another car, such as a light pole or the concrete median on a highway, Tennessee law still stipulates a duty to report the accident. If there is damage to any property on or adjacent to premises frequented by the public, the driver is required to take reasonable measures to locate the owner or person in charge of the property. The driver will then have to produce the same documentation required under T.C.A. §55-10-103 and 55-10-104. (T.C.A. §55-10-105).

Duty to Report

When an accident results in injury, death, or property damage worth greater than $50.00, the driver(s) involved are required to immediately notify their local police department or sheriff’s office, or otherwise the nearest state highway patrol office (T.C.A. §55-10-106). Furthermore, when bodily injury or death results from the accident or when the property damage is greater than $1,500.00, the driver(s) involved are required to make a written report of the accident to the Tennessee Department of Safety within 20 days from the accident. An accident resulting in damage worth more than $400.00 must be reported when the damage was done to government property. In written accident reports, drivers will be required to include information pertaining to their insurance, or else they may face repercussions under the financial responsibility law (T.C.A. 55-10-107). Officers on-scene at the crash will typically advise drivers of how to make a report, otherwise they can receive guidance from their insurance company or by calling the Department of Safety directly.

Not every driver is able to report their accident, though. Unfortunately, in many car crashes, drivers are hospitalized or even die. When a driver is physically incapable of making a report during the time frame prescribed, they are not required to under the law. However, if there was another occupant in the vehicle at the time of the crash who is physically capable of making a report, this occupant will be expected to make a report in place of the driver. Furthermore, if the driver did not own the vehicle involved, the owner will have to make a report in the incapacitated driver’s stead. Finally, coroners and repair garages are also required to report to the Department of Safety undertakings and repairs they work involving automobile accidents in the state of Tennessee.

Failure to report an accident when you have a legal duty to report can incur some harsh consequences. Under T.C.A. 55-10-111, failure to report an accident is a Class C misdemeanor. The department of safety can suspend the license (or non-resident operating privileges) of a driver for failing to report an accident, in addition to any fines, probation or jail time, community service, or other punishments ordered by the court. The Department of Safety is serious about these reports because they play a crucial role in accident prevention. Under T.C.A. 55-10-114, no reports made to the Department of Safety by drivers following an accident shall be used in a civil or criminal trial arising out of the accident. The department is only authorized under law to share with the parties of the trial whether or not a report has been made.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident

Leaving the scene of an accident you were involved in without first rendering aid and/or exchanging information with the other parties to the wreck is a crime in the state of Tennessee. The severity of charges for leaving the scene of an accident varies depending on the circumstances of the wreck. Generally, this charge is a Class C misdemeanor, however it becomes a Class A misdemeanor when the wreck resulted in bodily injury, and a Class E felony when the wreck resulted in death. Meaning, even for the least severe leaving the scene of an accident convictions, you can end up serving time in jail! Check out our blog from 2019 to dive deeper into this topic.

In order to avoid criminal charges for leaving the scene of an accident, it is imperative that you remain on scene of the accident until law enforcement or other first responders arrive. This means stopping your car immediately, or returning to the scene of the accident as quickly as possible when traffic conditions prevent you from stopping right away. You may feel as though fleeing the scene will shield you from a criminal or civil lawsuit, but the fact of the matter is that leaving the scene of an accident will only bring greater legal consequences in the long run.

Potential Consequences on Your Insurance

Hit-and-run accidents incur consequences on the insurance of both the victim and the offender. When a driver unlawfully leaves the scene of an accident, their insurer will regard this as a sign that the driver is a liability. Therefore, the company may choose to increase the insured’s monthly premium or even cancel their insurance policy. For drivers who remain on the scene of the accident, being unable to identify the driver that fled the scene may result in their insurance having to cover damages sustained in the accident. Under Tennessee law, every driver’s insurance policy should include uninsured motorist coverage. Even if these drivers are not at fault, they will most likely be required to pay their insurance premium to repair any damages. Claims under uninsured motorist coverage may even drive increase these drivers’ insurance premiums.

It is vital that victims in automobile accidents report the accident to their insurance and the police whenever the other driver unlawfully leaves the scene. Creating documentation of the accident will be critical to support any insurance claims or legal action.

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Let Best & Brock Be Your Roadmap to Resolution

Following an automobile accident, the legal repercussions can be overwhelming. Alongside civil suits regarding damages sustained, the state can bring charges against drivers in criminal court for leaving the scene of an accident, vehicular assault, and even vehicular homicide. While trying to fix your car and heal from your injuries, the last thing you need on your mind is the complex legal process. Let Best & Brock take the wheel in your personal injury and criminal defense cases, so that you may be at ease through your journey to recovery. Our experienced criminal defense and personal injury attorneys have an established reputation for handling automobile accident cases with efficiency and empathy.

Reach out by calling (423) 829-1055 or by filling out our online contact form to schedule a FREE consultation!

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