Guide to Utah Hit and Run Laws
John and Katie are driving to a party on a rainy October day. They are stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-15 in Tremonton with no end in sight. Just as the traffic starts to move, a truck sideswipes their car, careens into the median, crosses the other lanes of traffic going the wrong direction, and keeps going. John and Katie are stunned until they realize the police are in pursuit of the hit-and-run driver who has struck multiple vehicles in an attempt to evade them.
Stuck in traffic with a damaged driver’s side door, left quarter panel, and white smoke leaking out of the hood, they are forced to abandon their car and wait for help. If the hit-and-run driver is caught, can John and Katie bring civil charges against them for the personal injury and property damage they have caused? Do they have to wait until criminal charges are filed?
What is Considered a Hit-and-Run?
In Utah, hit-and-run driving offenses are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. For a suspect to be charged, the police must have probable cause to make an arrest. Leaving the scene of an accident before you have had the chance to exchange information with the other driver is considered a hit-and-run offense. Utah Code §41-6a-401(2019). Similarly, failing to stop at all after colliding with another vehicle, pedestrian, or cyclist is also considered a hit-and-run. While a simple auto accident is not a crime in of itself, failing to wait for police to arrive at the scene or exchange information can subject the other driver to criminal penalties.
Is a Utah Hit-and-Run a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
Whether a defendant is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony for a hit-and-run depends on the circumstances of the accident. For example, if a defendant strikes another vehicle and does not cause physical injury to the occupants of the other car, he or she can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail in addition to $1,000 in fines. Utah Code §41-6a-401-7 (2019). If the defendant hits another vehicle and causes physical injuries to the occupants, he can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor at the very minimum. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2500 fine.
If the defendant causes serious personal injury to the victims in a hit-and-run, they could be looking at nearly five years in prison and over $5000 in potential fines. This is because a hit-and-run causing serious bodily injury is classified as a felony. In addition, a hit-and-run resulting in the death of another person is also classified as a third-degree felony. If multiple victims were killed in a hit-and-run crash, the defendant would be charged with multiple counts of the same crime.
What About Collisions With Parked Vehicles?
A collision with a parked vehicle is still considered a hit-and-run, and therefore a crime if the driver does not leave their information or wait for the owner of the vehicle to return. Even if a person strikes another car with a grocery cart, if the force of the collision caused property damage, that person needs to remain at the scene. If they are unable due to an emergency, they need to inform the authorities that they were in a collision with a parked vehicle and provide their information so the other driver can file a claim with their insurance company.
No one should walk out of a grocery store or shopping mall to find their car damaged, but it does happen far too often. If it happened to you, call the police. Speak to the store manager or owner of the parking lot intersection and find out if surveillance footage of the parking lot is available. CCTV surveillance could assist authorities in identifying the potential defendant. Even if the other driver hit your parked car and left a note, it is still a good idea to call the police so an accident report can be prepared and an investigation can begin.
Next Steps after a Hit-and-Run Accident
If you or a loved one suffered property damage or personal injury due to a Utah hit-and-run accident, it’s crucial you contact a litigation attorney as soon as possible. Any information you can collect may help your case, including the color, make and model of the suspect’s vehicle, the suspect’s hair color, build, and whether he or she was driving with passengers in the car. If anyone else saw the accident, get their identification and statement of what occurred. Witness testimony is invaluable in a personal injury case.
Call the police immediately, inform them that the other driver left the scene and that you require emergency assistance. If you have been injured, even if you think it safe to drive home, don’t. Seek emergency medical attention. Take photos of the damage to your vehicle and other vehicles if it was a multi-vehicle accident. Take photos of the intersection or highway as well, including tire marks or damaged parts. Write down what happened in your own words while it is fresh in your mind and include details like the time of day and the weather. Report the accident to your insurance company, then contact our personal injury attorneys at Harris, Preston, and Chambers. We will run interference with the insurance companies and follow-up with the police to determine if a defendant has been positively identified so a case can be opened.
What About Insurance Coverage?
If police are unable to apprehend the suspect, and there are no leads, they may close the criminal case. However, this does not mean that you are out of options. All Utah drivers are required to maintain uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance coverage. Utah Code §31A-22-305 (2020). Your insurance carrier should cover the cost of expenses due to property damage including the cost of a rental vehicle and repairs to your car or a check for the fair market value of your vehicle if it is damaged. Insurance should also cover the cost of medical expenses, doctor’s bills, rehabilitation, prescriptions, and any other out-of-pocket costs associated with personal injury.
If your insurance company refuses to pay or is holding out until the identity of the phantom driver is uncovered, you are not out of options. You can take legal action against your own insurance company, and our lawyers at Harris, Preston and Chambers can guide you through every step of the process. It is an unfortunate reality, but the insurance company simply does not have your best interests in mind. And sadly, not all hit-and-run drivers are apprehended, leaving victims at an unfair disadvantage.
Contact Our Utah Hit-and-Run Accident Attorneys
No one hops in the car expecting to be hit by another vehicle. But at the very least, common decency and the rules of the road require drivers to exchange information after a collision. A hit-and-run accident can be traumatic. For some victims, the identity of the driver is never discovered. Some victims may be left with permanent disability or recuperating with serious injuries that impact their quality of life daily.
Our attorneys at Harris, Preston, and Chambers understand the frustration of dealing with the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident. We specialize in personal injury law and auto collisions, and we go to bat for our clients to achieve justice. You are entitled to damages for your ordeal, and our lawyers are here to help. With offices located conveniently in Logan, we serve clients throughout Utah. Call today to schedule a free consultation.