The following story is real and can happen to you.
A small mistake can cause a ripple of life-changing events.
It’s Friday, which means it’s finally the end of a long work week. You’re looking forward to driving home and kicking off the weekend. But guess what? The rest of the town is looking to do the same exact thing. This means the roads are at their busiest, with the 5pm rush hour traffic hitting peak capacity on the congested streets.
Having been driving for most of your life, you know the road laws like the back of your hand, specifically the “right on red” rules that pertain to your state. You pull up to a crowded intersection, preparing to make a right turn on the red light once the lane is clear of cars.
You check once, then twice.
You check one more time, seeing the pedestrian walkway is free of people.You notice the walk signal is blinking, telling pedestrians not to begin crossing because they may not have enough time to make it to the other side.
You check once more. All clear. You slowly ease the breaks and begin to turn.
In a flash, there are two people in front of your car.
You hit the brakes. The car, which was barely in motion, immediately stops.
You jump out of the car. “Are you okay?” you ask the pair standing near your headlights.
Your heart is racing as they look at you with a questioning glance. “Do you need medical attention?” you ask again, more insistently than before. You look at them head-to-toe. Only one person made an “impact” with your car, and, to your knowledge, it was barely a tap. In fact, you’re not even sure you touched them.
You think back to the seconds before incident. Your car was barely in motion, the pedestrian sign was blinking so the pedestrians should have stopped, right?
In your panicked contemplation, you watch the two pedestrians look at one another. They open their mouths but the language they speak is unfamiliar to you. Eastern European, perhaps? You continue offering assistance, but to your shock, they begin to walk away as if absolutely nothing happened.
Your car is blocking the heavy traffic filled with people trying to get to their evening plans. The strange pedestrians are now completely out of sight. You think, as any sane human would, that all is good and the situation warrants no more attention.
You get back into your car and leave.
An hour later, there’s a knock at your door. You open with a smile that quickly drops.
Two police officers are standing in front of you.
They say you’ve been involved in a “hit and run.” You explain your side of the story, to which they agree you morally did nothing wrong, but legally you’ve committed a 3rd degree felony.
They have to take you to jail. You ask if you can turn yourself in later in the evening. They readily agree. You can see the sympathy in their eyes.
You have a nice dinner. You mentally prepare yourself. And then you turn yourself in.
Just like that, you have a criminal record.
This story is based on a real person’s account. He was charged with a 3rd degree felony, which was dropped just as quickly as the situation itself. How did a few seemingly unimportant seconds turn into a nightmare?
Little to his knowledge, when there is an accident that involves a vehicle and a pedestrian, whether there is an injury or no injury, the incident needs to be immediately reported or it’s considered a 3rd degree felony, automatically.
No matter the circumstances, relationship, or outcome.
After our subject left the scene, the pedestrians returned. They reported the “accident,” claiming they were hurt and that the accused had left the scene abruptly.
What the “victims” didn’t know? Even if they were actually hurt, they would never be eligible for personal injury benefits and legal compensation.
Out of car. Out of state. Out of luck.
Florida is a no-fault state, meaning that drivers are required by law to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance that provides $10,000 to medical expenses no matter who is at fault in the accident. But, PIP has rules, hence the aforementioned adage. You must be in your legally registered state (out of state) and in your own registered vehicle (out of car) or else you don’t get anything (out of luck).
In addition to the minimum requirements, PIP also holds a statute of limitations: the injured party must start their medical treatment within 14 days of the reported accident.
Back to the case at hand.
Medical records, security cameras, and personal testimony swiftly brought the truth to light. Our subject was scammed by the pair of pedestrians taking an opportunity to reap financial reward. Though all the charges were dropped and the record expunged, the mental and financial toll this took on the wrongfully accused was monumental.
This is what he should have done:
Situations such as these require a level-head. It’s important to not panic, evaluate the scene, call the police, and remain at the scene. If our subject had done this, he would have enjoyed the rest of the weekend like nothing happened.
Why did this driver share his story? He doesn’t want this to happen to you. It’s all too simple to fall into a situation that can be avoided by a few simple actions.
Stay aware. Stay safe. Never hesitate to report.
IGNORANCE IS NO EXCUSE TO BREAK THE LAW