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Bicyclists & Hit and Run Drivers

At any given time about 20% of the cases we handle involve a hit and run driver.  My unofficial research and experience suggests that a driver is more likely to flee the scene of an accident involving a bicyclist, and even more likely than that to flee the scene of an accident involving a pedestrian.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from all the hit and runs I’ve handled it is that you can never predict who will flee the scene of an accident or why.  I’ve heard people speculate that a driver fled from the scene because they didn’t have insurance, but my experience is that hit and run drivers flee for any number of unpredictable reasons, lack of insurance being a fairly uncommon reason.Some drivers flee because they are drunk or otherwise intoxicated.  Some flee because they have an outstanding warrant or suspended driver’s license.  Some flee for no better reason than the fact that they can flee.  Some drivers simply leave the scene because they don’t, “…have time to deal with this.”Hit and run drivers span all social strata and races.  I’ve seen as many poor hit and run drivers as I’ve seen super wealthy.  I’ve handled hit and run cases against company executives and cell phone salesmen alike.  I’ve seen cases in which lawyers fled.  We’ve even had a case where a doctor-lawyer was alleged to have fled the scene.

Sometimes it is easy to identify the driver.  A fairly common occurrence in hit and run crashes is that the hitter’s license plate is dislodged in the crash.  They flee leaving the license plate at the scene of the accident.  This makes finding the vehicle owner fairly easy, which tends to yield the driver in due course.

Other times independent witnesses write down the license plate or pursue the hit and run driver.  Hit and runs are the one type of accident where witnesses are universally cooperative.  I almost never hear a witness to a hit and run say, “I saw it, but I would not be willing to testify…” or “I don’t want to get involved.”  Witnesses to a hit and run tend to be shocked and upset by what they saw.  They tend to really try to help the victim.  I’ve had a few cases in which a witness to a hit and run chased down a hit and run driver and reported their position to the police.

Hit and run drivers use predictable defenses.  There are three main defenses asserted in a hit and run:

  • The bicyclist was fine, or the bicyclist left first so I left.
  •  I was afraid for my safety, so I left.
  • I don’t know anything about this.

In my first hit and run case the driver hit my client while driving his 13 year old son to school.  He left her lying in the intersection with a broken arm.  What he said in his defense was that, “She was fine.”  I pointed out that he apparently made that medical diagnosis while driving away from the scene of the accident at 30 miles per hour, and that the girl was not “fine.”

In another early hit and run case a driver argued that my client had tried to attack him after he failed to yield to my client on a left turn.  My client had, in fact, chased down the driver after bailing out to avoid being hit by the left turning vehicle.  The driver knew that my client had gone down, but he continued driving down the road, only to get caught in traffic a few blocks away.  My client jumped up and pursued the driver.  When he caught up to the driver a verbal confrontation ensued and the driver fled into oncoming traffic to successfully flee the scene.  While it may have been believable that the driver fled becuase he was scared of a potential assault, I pointed out that he didn’t call the police.  He didn’t report the assault, and he didn’t seek and medical treatment.  In fact, he fled to his house without reporting the accident to his insurance, the police or anyone else.

The most difficult defense I’ve had to face in a hit and run is, “I don’t know anything about this.”  This basically requires me to work backward and prove my case.  This defense doesn’t admit they were at the scene, so we have to establish that through investigation and witnesses.  In such cases cell phone location data and (in urban areas) video is very helpful.

Once someone flees the scene of the accident it is important to conduct a thorough investigation as quickly as possible.  As soon as the accident happens evidence starts evaporating or is actively being destroyed by the hit and run driver.  There is no time to wait before trying to locate the hit and run driver.  My experience is that law enforcement may not do everything possible to locate a hit and run driver, which is why it’s so important to conduct an independent investigation in such cases.

If you’ve been involved in a hit and run crash in Iowa you should contact a lawyer.  A good lawyer will thoroughly investigate your Iowa hit and run collision and they will go about securing evidence immediately.  You should contact a lawyer even if your Iowa hit and run driver got away.  It may still be possible for a good lawyer to effectuate a recovery even if the Iowa hit and run driver was not found.  The only way to know fo sure is to contact a lawyer who handles hit and run cases in Iowa.

Iowa code requires people involved in an accident with either property damage or a personal injury to stop and remain at the scene of the accident.  Any person who flees the scene of an accident involving a personal injury or death risks criminal prosecution as follows:

321.261 Death or personal injuries.

1. The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close as possible and if able, shall then return to and remain at the scene of the accident in accordance with section 321.263. Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary.
2. Any person failing to stop or to comply with the requirements in subsection 1 of this section, in the event of an accident resulting in an injury to any person is guilty upon conviction of a serious misdemeanor.
3. Notwithstanding subsection 2, any person failing to stop or to comply with the requirements in subsection 1, in the event of an accident resulting in a serious injury to any person, is guilty upon conviction of an aggravated misdemeanor. For purposes of this section, “serious injury” means as defined in section 702.18.
4. A person failing to stop or to comply with the requirements in subsection 1, in the event of an accident resulting in the death of a person, is guilty upon conviction of a class “D” felony.
5. The director shall revoke the driver’s license of a person convicted of a violation of this section.

321.262 Leaving scene of traffic accident — vehicle damage only.

The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such accident or as close thereto as possible but shall forthwith return to and in every event shall remain at the scene of such accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of section 321.263. Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary. Any person failing to stop or comply with said requirements under such circumstances shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished as provided in section 321.482.

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