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Florida hit-and-run accidents increasing as penalties increase

When it comes to hit-and-run accidents in Florida, recent developments bring both good and bad news.

The good news is that the state government is taking such accidents more seriously than it has before, and under the auspices of the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act has increased the severity of criminal penalties for leaving the scene of an accident.

The bad news is, it seems that the more stringent penalties against hit-and-run drivers are having little if any effect on reducing the frequency of such incidents. In fact, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, the incidence of fatal hit-and-run accidents increased by nearly one-quarter between 2013 and 2014, and more than 80,000 total hit-and-run cases took place last year.

The reasons why a driver might flee an accident scene are many. Occasionally it is possible that he or she may not have been aware of striking someone or something; more often other factors come into play, such as panic or the awareness on the driver's part that by staying and waiting for the police to arrive even worse consequences will follow, for example, the driver has an outstanding warrant, is intoxicated, or has no proof of insurance.

Regardless of the reasons given for taking flight, not only is a hit-and-run accident a crime, but particularly if it results in injuries to other drivers or pedestrians it is also a source of civil liability. If the hit-and-run driver is ever found, then the victim or victims of his or her behavior that caused the accident will likely have a cause of action for negligence or, in the worst-case scenario, for wrongful death of a loved one if the accident resulted in death.

The statute of limitations in Florida for negligence-based personal injury is four years, and for wrongful death is two years after the date of death, although these time limits are subject to modification based on circumstances that can include the unavailability of the defendant because he or she is hiding.

Anyone who has been injured or who has suffered the loss of a loved one in a hit-and-run accident should consult with an attorney immediately if the driver is ever found to determine if it is still possible to initiate a civil lawsuit.

Source: Highlands Today, "FHP: Hit-and-run penalties have gotten tougher," Pallavi Agarwal, Feb. 20, 2015

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