Stiff criminal and civil penalties in Florida hit-and-run car accidents

Leaving the scene of a car or truck accident can impact whether a victim survives. In South Florida the prevalence of hit-and-run accidents is troubling. A pedestrian or bicycle accident can be fatal if the driver of a vehicle involved drives away without calling for help.

Drivers on the road while impaired by alcohol, drugs or prescription medications may be more likely to leave the scene to avoid criminal penalties. This seemed to the case in the first fatal Sarasota pedestrian accident of the year. It was nearly 1 a.m. when a man driving on U.S. 41 jumped the curb and hit a pedestrian. The driver took off, but was later arrested by a nearby police officer. Reportedly the driver appeared to be "out of it" and "impaired by an unknown substance."

If the driver was impaired, he could be charged and convicted of DUI-manslaughter and face a lengthy prison sentence. The accident also raises questions of the safety engineering of Florida roads. Often roadways are developed without much thought for pedestrians and bicycles. In the area where the accident occurred, slower traffic speeds along with wider sidewalks and better lighting could make it safer for those on foot or cycling to work.

Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act

A bill that has recently passed the Florida legislature and is headed to the desk of Governor Rick Scott seeks to change the situation. It would punish those who leave the scene of accidents. The law is named for a tri-athlete and father of two who was killed in a hit-and-run crash that happened in 2012. The law would impose a minimum four-year prison sentence for anyone who leaves the scene of an accident that causes a death.

The driver who hit Cohen received a sentence of one-year in jail. The new legislation could reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents and may make Florida roadways safer for pedestrian and cyclists.

Distraction: another cause of serious pedestrian accidents

In Lehigh County to the south, another pedestrian accident occurred last year when a driver took his eyes off the road. He reached down to pick up a cell phone that had fallen off his lap. In those 10 seconds he failed to see an elderly woman crossing the street. She was dropping off her trash for pickup. The man did stop though and was at the scene when police arrived.

The man recently pleaded guilty to felony homicide by vehicle. He could receive up to seven years in prison.

Civil lawsuits can also prompt change

In addition to criminal charges, the family of a pedestrian or cyclist killed may bring a wrongful death lawsuit. These types of lawsuits hold a driver liable for his or her negligent conduct. These lawsuits are often complex, because there may be more than one insurance policy available and experts may be need to testify on causation.

If a loved one is injured or killed in a cycling or pedestrian accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for guidance. Life can change quickly when a loved one passes away unexpectedly or is seriously injured in an accident. When the cause was the negligence of another, monetary damages may be available to cover medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earnings, funeral expenses, and loss of companionship.