How Does a Defendant Fleeing the Scene of an Accident Impact Your Lawsuit?

If you've been harmed due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct of another, then California law may give you a right of action for damages - in car accident scenarios, or otherwise. Hit and run accidents are unfortunately common, and the reasons for their occurrence are manifold: some defendants may simply be anxious and may flee, while others may have insufficient insurance coverage and may flee to avoid personal liability.

Let's take a look at some of the basics for a clearer understanding.

Actions Probative of Negligence

In California, as in most other states, the fact that the defendant fled the scene of an accident is not enough to allow for a presumption of negligence. Instead, the fact that the defendant fled the scene of the accident will serve as probative evidence of negligence. In other words, it can be used to support your claim for negligence, but it is not enough - by itself - to establish that the defendant is liable for your injuries.

For example, suppose that you are injured in a collision with the defendant's car. The defendant flees the scene out of concern that they will be held liable. It may be the case that the defendant was actually not "negligent" given the circumstances. The fact that they fled the scene cannot therefore be used to prove negligence outright. You would have to evaluate other factors to determine the defendant's negligence, such as whether they were speeding or driving while distracted.

Defendant Identification May Be an Issue

It can be quite a challenge to identify the hit and run defendant after they have fled the scene, though not impossible. With the aid of a skilled attorney (and their private investigator partners), you will be able to evaluate the scene of the accident for evidence that may lead to the defendant.

For example, surveillance camera footage may give you the information you need (i.e., license plate numbers, visual identification of the defendant, etc.) to determine who the defendant is and to bring a claim against them for damages. Alternatively, you may be able to speak to eyewitnesses who can identify the vehicle, the look of the defendant, the direction that they fled, and more.

If you identify the defendant, but they choose not to show up to court to litigate, then the court may grant you an automatic judgment in your favor, allowing you to skip over the bulk of the dispute process.

Potential for Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are only rarely awarded in personal injury lawsuits - in California and elsewhere - though it's worth pointing out that courts are entitled to award punitive damages in situations where the defendant's conduct is sufficiently willful, malicious, or egregious. Punitive damages are meant to "punish" the defendant for their egregious behavior (through the imposition of bonus damages, which are awarded on the basis of a multiplier of the actual losses), and to discourage others from doing the same.

Now, in the hit and run context, punitive damages may be applicable. Not all hit and run car accidents necessarily involve willful, malicious, or even egregious conduct. If the defendant was simply frightened and in shock, they may have "fled the scene" without contemplating the reality of the situation and their own responsibilities. This is not uncommon.

Of course, other hit and run accidents involve willful behavior on the part of the defendant to escape before they can be identified. In such circumstances, the court may award punitive damages.

Contact an Experienced Mountain View Car Accident Lawyer for Help

If you have been injured in a hit and run car accident due to the fault of another party, then you may be entitled to significant compensation under California law. Though car accident disputes may seem fairly simple upon first impression, they can involve unique challenges (depending on the circumstances). For example, if the defendant hit you and then fled the scene, then you may struggle to identify them. Once you do identify the defendant, however, you may have an easier time establishing their liability.

Attorney Brian J. O'Grady has decades of experience representing injured plaintiffs involved in a wide range of personal injury disputes, including car accident disputes - whether or not the defendant has engaged in a "hit and run." Here at the Law Offices of Brian J. O'Grady, we are well-equipped to guide you through every stage of litigation. Our approach is fundamentally client-oriented, and as such, we keep the lines of communication open so that we can keep apprised of all relevant (and updated) information - this gives us the ability to personally tailor our arguments to the particularities of a client's case.

Ready to proceed?

Call (650) 318-6131 or request an appointment online to schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Mountain View car accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Brian J. O'Grady today.