Question: I backed into another car at the mall parking lot and dented it. I know I should have left a note with my info but I didn’t. I just left. How much trouble could I get into for leaving the scene?
Answer: Leaving the scene of an accident, even a minor one, carries consequences under the law. Your first instinct was right. It’s always a good idea in such situations to leave a note giving your contact information after you’ve caused damage to another car where the owner is not around. In fact, there are laws requiring us all to stop after an accident, even if damage is minor and even if it’s only property damage and no injuries are involved.
Think about it. Pretty much anywhere you go security cameras are everywhere. Most malls, strip malls, commercial parking lots, gas stations and other businesses have security cameras constantly monitoring the area. So if you hit another vehicle and leave the owner can always go to the owners or managers of the lot and request the video.
Oh, the video isn’t good enough to show my license plate, you might be thinking. That may have been true at one time with grainy black and white early security cameras. But more and more, such cameras include kicked up technology and can in fact detect plates. It may or may not be true in your case but the point is the owner of the vehicle that was hit has a right to know who caused the damage. Besides, how do you know another person was not sitting in a nearby car and saw the incident?
What are the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident?
Generally speaking the law requires giving one’s name, address, and the registration of the motor vehicle. Everything I’ve said above is generally true everywhere but let’s briefly low at the laws in the two states in which I practice.
Hit & Run Accidents: Massachusetts
In Massachusetts the fine for leaving the scene of an accident where there has been property damage is anywhere between $20 and $200. A court can actually impose a sentence of 20 weeks or up to two years under the Massachusetts law. If the crash involves property damage only and no personal injury, then there is no license suspension or revocation.
Those penalties increase where bodily injury is involved. Leaving the scene of an accident where injury results can be punished with a fine of between $500 and $1,000. A sentence of confinement to jail or prison would range from six months to two years. License revocation is one year for a first offense, two years for subsequent offenses.
Finally, leaving the scene of an accident where there is a fatality or the person later dies is a felony carrying potential jail time of anywhere from one year up to ten years. The fines range from $1,000 to $5,000. For a first offense license revocation is three years, ten years for a second offense.
Hit & Run Accidents: New Hampshire
New Hampshire law on leaving the scene of an accident imposes a similar sliding scale of penalties. Where you’ve caused property damage but no personal injury the penalties fall under the misdemeanor category and court imposed fines are likely. Where the hit and run driver’s actions cause personal injury or death, the conduct will be charged as a penalty.
The wording of the New Hampshire law is fairly clear:
“[The] driver of a vehicle who knows or should have known that he or she has just been involved in any accident which resulted in death, personal injury or damages to property, shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of the accident…”
NH Law making hit & run a class B felony and subject to criminal prosecution.
Hit & Run: Leaving the Scene of any Crash is a Bad Idea
Laws in every state require drivers to stop after an accident. Laws differ in the specific range of penalties, both civil and criminal, spelled out in those laws and regulations. Your insurance company, if it finds out about the mishap, will likely be asking questions and potentially raising rates. But dealing with the issue up front honestly presents a far better choice than waiting for someone to track you down and file charges.
So, stopping at the scene is the best bet. Laws in this area generally require physical exchange of information, or if not physically possible, going to the local police station and providing the information to law enforcement. However, in the case of a simple bang in the mall parking lot, as a practical matter, yes, leaving a note with name, registration, insurance company and other contact information will likely avoid a larger problem.
Final Note on Hit & Run
As a final note, remember that a relatively minor crash in a parking lot will present less of a hassle in the long run than dealing with the potential civil and criminal penalties on the books. Even where a trip to the local auto body shop rears its ugly head. Placed in that perspective the idea of flooring it and getting out of there makes little or no sense.
The above answer outlines the best case scenario based on a relatively minor fender bender in a mall parking lot. But, if you’re in a more serious accident, especially one involving personal injury, here’s what to do:
M.G.L c. 90 Sec. 24(2)
Photo Model: Rebecca Langelier