Hit and Run: 5 things you need to know
Being in a car accident is a terrifying experience. In moments of intense panic, you might be tempted to drive away as fast as you can. Maybe you observe the scene and think it’s safe to go but still leave too quickly. Perhaps you don’t talk to all of the people who saw the accident. If you’re not careful, you could make the accident worse by unknowingly committing a hit and run or jeopardize your liability in a claim with ICBC.
At Acumen Law Corporation, we’ve dealt with many criminal and civil hit and run cases. Here are the things we think drivers need to know:
1) A hit and run is a crime
Driving away from the scene of an accident, commonly called a hit and run, is an offence under the Criminal Code. If you are found guilty, you could be sent to jail for up to five years.
You could face an even longer sentence if the accident results in bodily harm. If somebody dies because of the hit and run, you could get imprisonment for life.
Section 252 (1) of the Criminal Code says if you are in driving a vehicle and get in an accident with another person or vehicle, you must stop give your name, address, and offer assistance to any person(s) who have been injured. Leaving the scene of an accident to avoid liability is a criminal offence.
2) Always stop to check if you think you hit something
You should always stop to check if you think you have hit someone or something, but what happens when you don’t realize you were in an accident and keep driving?
The Criminal Code specifically states a person is guilty of an offence if they leave “with intent to escape civil or criminal liability.” Prosecution might try to prove you were willfully blind to your responsibilities, meaning you deliberately did not do everything to verify whether an accident occurred.
What can this look like?
One driver was found guilty for not investigating a possible accident thoroughly. He was travelling with his date along a dark road at night with few people around. The couple heard a loud bang and then noticed a large hole in the windshield. The driver was afraid somebody had thrown a rock at their car. When the couple stopped to check, they did not see anything. The driver later learned somebody had been fatally injured and was charged with a hit and run. The judge found the driver was willfully blind to the accident and did not pursue further investigation to “avoid finding out what he did not want to find out.”
If something goes wrong when you’re on the road, always stop to ensure nobody was injured. Maybe you ran over a pothole, but it’s better to verify you didn’t hit anything. Check to see if there’s damage on your car that looks severe and thoroughly investigate the scene before continuing.
3) You can be found guilty of a hit and run if you hit an animal
Nobody wants to hit an animal. But if you do and don’t stop, it could be a hit and run.
In one case, a driver who thought he had struck an animal pulled over to investigate, couldn’t see what he had struck and when questioned by his wife, told her he thought it was a deer.
He was contacted by police investigating the hit-and-run of a horse a few days later. And it turned out that the animal he struck was an escaped horse from a nearby pen.
Accidents involving “cattle” in the charge of another person are included in the Criminal Code. Farm animals such as cows, horses, donkeys, and pigs are listed as “cattle” under the law. If you hit one and don’t stop, it is a criminal offence.
The judge found the driver did not remain at the scene long enough to fulfill his duties, believing the driver should have seen the horse after the accident and reported to one of the homes in the area. The driver’s efforts to report the accident were, in the judge’s view, “extremely limited and not very effective.”
If you strike an animal and don’t make a solid effort to find anyone nearby and leave, the court may consider it a hit and run.
4) You must make all reasonable efforts to identify a hit and run driver
We’ve covered criminal hit and run cases, but what about when another driver strikes your vehicle and then drives away? What happens when you file an insurance claim because of a hit and run?
We’ve seen ICBC regularly fight insurance claims. Hit and runs are no exception. In the event you are the victim of a hit and run, ICBC might reject your claim, saying you did not do enough to identify the hit and run driver. Under section 24(5) of the Insurance (Motor Vehicle) Act, the court must be satisfied all reasonable efforts have been made to identify an unknown driver in the event of an accident. Talking to police or anyone nearby might help your case.
Take this example: a driver and his daughter were parked on the wrong side of the street with his headlights on about four feet from the curb. Suddenly, he was struck by a hit and run driver. The driver’s daughter made the accident report the next morning. She told the driver she was interviewed by the RCMP, who were investigating a similar hit and run accident in Burnaby. ICBC alleged the driver should have gone door-to-door to search for witnesses. But the court found since he knew the RCMP was on the case, it was reasonable for him to assume he did not have to investigate further.
Calling police after a hit and run might save you when dealing with ICBC.
5) Witness accounts can help if ICBC denies your hit and run claim
It might not be enough to just speak to witnesses after an accident. In one driver‘s case, he did actually stop to get assistance from witnesses, but ICBC still denied him coverage.
The driver was in a stationary vehicle when the accident happened and spoke to two drivers who were stopped nearby. Because the driver did not include the name or contact information of alleged witnesses in his accident report to ICBC or call the witnesses to testify in court, the judge dismissed his claim.
You should always try to get a witness’ contact information when talking to them. You might need to call on them later to corroborate your story.
Acumen lawyers regularly challenge hit and run cases
So what if you’re in an accident, you’ve thoroughly checked whether anyone is hurt, given your name and address to anyone involved, talked to any witnesses and got their contact information? What’s your next step? It can be crucial to seek out legal help if you’re involved in an accident. A lawyer can help you in dealing with police or filing your claim to ICBC. At Acumen Law Corporation, our team of experienced lawyers has dealt with hundreds of civil and criminal driving accidents.