Hit-and-Run Laws in Washington

Hit-and-Run Laws in Washington

From Zain Liaquat

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Navigating the aftermath of a hit-and-run in Washington state can be a very challenging experience. Beyond the material loss, you may face the difficulties of recovering from injuries or helping loved ones recover from theirs while having little to no legal recourse. Hit-and-runs also affect your finances regardless of which side of the accident you’re on.

If you get caught in a hit-and-run, it can be challenging to understand the legal implications and the steps you must immediately take. Above all, know that hit-and-run laws are stringent in Washington, with penalties escalating based on the severity of the offense and the individual’s criminal history.

This article explains the specific penalties for hit-and-run offenses, distinguishes between misdemeanors and felonies, and outlines the steps you should take if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run or if you fled the scene after a crash.

Hit and Run Penalties in Washington

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 46.52 defines the responsibilities of individuals involved in a car accident. Sections RCW 46.52.010 and RCW 46.52.020 specify some of the penalties for hit-and-runs in Washington.

Here’s a breakdown of hit-and-run severities and their penalties:

     Property damage to unoccupied vehicles. A misdemeanor that results in up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

     Property damage is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

     Injury. Class C felony that results in up to 5 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.

     Death. Class B felonies result in up to 10 years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine.

Remember that hit-and-run penalties can increase based on the severity of the offense, prior criminal history, and aggravating factors. One such aggravating factor is driving under the influence (DUI).

What to Do After a Hit and Run in Washington?

If you are the victim of a hit-and-run incident, your priority is your safety. Whether you were inside your vehicle, on a bike, or were struck directly by the car when the incident happened, you should call 911 even if you or your passengers don’t have any visible injuries. If you are not in immediate danger, move your vehicle to the side of the road if possible.

Take note of everything around you and especially anything you remember about these details:

     The license plate number. Even just a partial number is invaluable in identifying the driver.

     The make, model, and color of the car that hit you.

     The driver. What did they look like? Did they say or do anything before driving away?

     The state the license plate was from.

     Ask local businesses as soon as you can if they had security cameras rolling when the incident occurred.

Thoroughly document the damage to your vehicle when it is safe. Take pictures, ask someone there to act as a witness and get their contact information, and keep all damaged items, including ripped or bloody clothing (in case of injuries).

After documenting everything you can, contact your insurance company and ask whether your policy covers hit-and-run accidents. Your insurance provider may cover the damages if the driver isn't caught. You will make a much stronger case by providing as much information as possible, so hold on to everything you can.

Regarding your health, even if emergency responders don’t find anything immediately wrong right after the incident, contact your primary care provider for follow-up visits. Keep any documents and receipts which can serve as further evidence.

First, know that driving away after a crash is always wrong. Whether you panicked or the damage was minor enough that you didn’t notice, it’s done.

You should now contact the nearest police station and inform them what happened. Give them as many details as you can. It’s unlikely that coming forward will spare you the hit-and-run conviction, but it may lessen the sentence, and it’s just the right thing to do.

Regardless of whether you’re a victim or the responsible party, if you are involved in a hit-and-run accident, consider contacting a Washington personal injury firm specializing in vehicle crashes. Experienced attorneys can help you navigate the legal challenges of hit-and-run cases, help you explore your recovery options or help you understand your rights and responsibilities as the responsible party.

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