Can I Go to Jail for a Fender Bender?
It is unlikely a driver will go to jail for a fender bender unless they left the scene of the accident. Doing so turns a minor accident into a hit-and-run. Even a misdemeanor hit-and-run is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. That is along with any restitution paid to the property owner for damages. There is an exception if the driver left the scene to seek medical attention for themselves or another party.
It does not matter who was at-fault for the fender bender. The driver whose vehicle was hit is also committing a hit-and-run if they leave the scene immediately after the collision. This holds true even if the collision involved a mailbox, fence, or other types of property besides a vehicle. Since pets are considered property, leaving the scene after hitting a domestic animal is also a potential hit-and-run accident.
For an ordinary fender bender, you may not need legal counsel. However, if a hit-and-run is involved, you should seek legal advice right away. A Los Angeles car accident lawyer at Ellis Injury Law will protect your rights and work to minimize the penalties for conviction.
What to do after a fender bender
Always stop after a minor car accident and exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver. Contact your insurance company and report the incident. Under California law, a collision causing more than $1,000 in damages requires reporting to the police. That is not a lot of money when it comes to property damage. Keep in mind that a police report will indicate which driver was at fault. If a lawsuit occurs, this is critical documentation.
You may find that a driver offers to settle things between the two of you, not bothering to contact the insurance companies. After all, even a minor accident will cause a spike in premiums. Do not do this. First, the driver may discover their car has more damage than initially appeared, and does contact their insurance company. There is also the potential in a low-speed collision that injuries did occur, although they were not immediately apparent. This is particularly true of whiplash. Failure to notify your insurance company as required by law and your policy agreement could mean your insurer will not cover the accident. This could leave you liable for all of the related repair and medical expenses.
The statute of limitations in California for filing a property damage claim is three years from the date of the accident. The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years from the accident date. If you did not report the accident to your insurance company and the other driver decides to sue you, you could end up with a very unpleasant surprise.
Parking lot accidents
Many fender benders occur in parking lots or other areas where a moving vehicle strikes a parked car. By law, the at-fault driver must leave a note with their contact information on the vehicle they hit.
In California, parking lot accidents, even if the property is privately owned, are considered the same as if they happened on a public roadway. Again, you cannot leave the scene and must report the collision to the police if the damage appears to exceed $1,000.
Misdemeanors and criminal records
Even if you do not go to jail for a misdemeanor hit-and-run, the offense gives you a criminal record. If you drive for a living or plan to in the future, this could affect your ability to find work as a commercial truck driver, delivery person, or ride-share driver.
A misdemeanor hit-and-run conviction adds two points to your driving record. If you accrue two more points on your record within a one-year period, that could mean the revocation or suspension of your driver’s license.
Contact a Southern California Car Accident Lawyer
If you’ve been involved in a fender bender, you may need the services of an experienced car accident lawyer at Ellis Injury Law. Arrange a free consultation by calling or texting 24/7 or completing our online contact form.
We will evaluate your case and let you know your options. Depending on the nature of the accident, it may be possible to work out a civil agreement with the property owner to avoid criminal prosecution.