Not every driver in Texas is responsible enough to fulfill his or her duties of care behind the wheel – including legal requirements after a car accident. Some drivers unlawfully flee the scenes of car accidents for fear of staying around to face the consequences of their actions. As the victim of a hit-and-run, you may not know whom to hold responsible for your damages. Turn to Texas’ hit-and-run laws for answers.
Texas strictly enforces its hit-and-run laws. A hit-and-run, or leaving the scene of a car accident, is a crime in Texas. It could be a major crime – a felony conviction – depending on the circumstances. Texas Transportation Code 550.021 requires all drivers involved in accidents that cause property damage, personal injuries or deaths to stop as close to the scene of the wreck as possible. These drivers must also return to an accident if they initially left the scene.
While at the scene, a driver must determine if anyone requires aid. If so, the driver must render reasonable aid until the police arrive. The driver must also provide the required information according to Code 550.023: name, address, vehicle registration number and the name of the operator’s motor vehicle insurance provider. A driver must also show his or her driver’s license, if asked. If the driver strikes an unattended vehicle, he or she must stop and try to locate the owner. If the owner is unavailable, the driver must leave the required information in a conspicuous place on the unattended car.
Failing to fulfill these driver responsibilities is a second-degree felony hit-and-run crime in Texas if the crash caused the death of a victim. It is a third-degree felony if someone has a serious bodily injury. Otherwise, it is a misdemeanor. The penalties for a felony hit-and-run conviction is up to $5,000 in fines and/or imprisonment for no more than five years. A misdemeanor hit-and-run is punishable with $500 to $2,000 in fines and/or jail time of up to 180 days, depending on the severity of the accident.
The serious potential penalties are enough to prevent many drivers from committing hit-and-run crimes in Texas. If a driver does strike you and flee the scene without stopping, however, it is important to know your rights as a victim. You will have the right to file a lawsuit against the driver if the police identify and arrest the person guilty of a hit-and-run. An injury suit could hold the driver responsible and force him or her to pay for your damages through an auto insurance policy.
It is important to try to gather evidence to help with a police investigation after a hit-and-run accident, such as photographs and videos of the scene of the crash, eyewitness testimony, a detailed description of what you saw, the other driver’s license plate numbers (even partial numbers can help), pieces of the culprit’s vehicle left behind, and CCTV footage of the crash. The more information you can collect, the higher the odds will be of the police identifying and finding the at-fault driver.
If the police do not catch the culprit, you may have to turn to your own auto insurance provider for benefits. Even without the at-fault driver available, a first-party claim could pay for your damages if you carry uninsured motorist insurance. This type of coverage will treat your hit-and-run accident as if it were a collision with an uninsured driver. If you do not have this type of coverage, your only other option may be a third-party claim against someone other than the driver, such as the City of Houston for an unsafe roadway. Work with a Houston car accident attorney for a full overview of your rights after a hit-and-run accident in Texas.