“If a tree falls in the forest, but there is no one around to hear, does it make a sound?” Ask any person, and the answers might differ.

“If you hit a parked car, and there is no one there to see you leave the scene, can you be charged with a criminal offense?” Ask any police officer, and the answer will be an automatic “yes.”

Hitting an Unattended Vehicle – Duty to Notify the Owner

It can happen to anyone. One minute you are coasting through the parking lot, hoping to find a spot and make a quick in-and-out trip into the grocery story. With a million things on your mind, you miscalculate the distance between two cars. Next thing you know, you’ve placed a dent in the car beside you.

In a state of embarrassment and panic, many drivers are tempted to flee the scene – particularly when the damage seems negligible or they are in a rush. Although the temptation to flee might be great, the legal consequences could be much greater.

Leaving the Scene – A Misdemeanor

What seems like a nothing more than an unfortunate error in judgment can actually be charged as a misdemeanor offense. According to Georgia traffic law, a driver who collides with an unattended vehicle is required to notify the owner or operator of the damaged car. The offending driver is required to immediately stop and either locate the owner/operator of the stricken vehicle, or to leave a note in an obvious place on the vehicle that provides his or her name, contact information, and car information. Failure to do so constitutes a misdemeanor offense called a “leaving the scene of an accident.”

Even if the damage is imperceptible or might go unnoticed at first, the duty to notify still exists. Not to mention, in today’s technology-driven society, the likelihood of getting caught is higher than you might think. Many neighborhoods and commercial areas have surveillance systems that increase the chance that a driver might be caught in the act. Plus, the fact that seemingly everyone owns a phone with a camera also heightens the likelihood that someone can snap a picture or video before you leave the scene. Shared videos on Facebook have solved less pressing mysteries than a dinged door, after all.

We’ve all made embarrassing driving errors; we’ve also all noticed mysterious scratches on our cars that no one owned up to causing. The car owner/operator may use her discretion when deciding whether or not to get police or insurance companies involved. Humility might soften the blow. It might not protect your pocket, but it may very well protect your criminal record.  The cost of repairing a dent may very well be cheaper than the cost of court fees, fines, and hiring an attorney.

Best advice? Bite the bullet. Be honest, and follow the law.

Owners/Operators of Unattended Vehicles – Protecting Yourself

If you are fortunate enough to see the accident take place, gather as much information about the offending vehicle as you can. A description of the vehicle’s make, model, color, license plate number, and identifying features (such as bumper stickers or scratches) can help police identify the car that hit you. Details about the driver’s physical description are also helpful if you have them.

Unfortunately, many owners never see their car get hit. The next best step is to search for witnesses. Ask individuals in the parking lot or nearby stores/restaurants if they saw anyone hit your car or behave suspiciously around your vehicle. Ask them for details about the car, driver, and time that they watched it occur. Make sure to ask the witnesses for their contact information, as well. You can also ask nearby shop owners what surveillance systems are in place. They might be willing to review footage to see if it shows any details about the incident or driver. Whether you leave or not, take pictures of the accident scene. Photographic evidence can help corroborate a claim submitted to your insurance company, should you choose to file one.

Most importantly, call the police as soon as possible. It might seem like a hassle, but your insurance company might require that damage be reported to policy within 24 hours to be considered “not at fault” damage. Filing an accident report can speed up the insurance claims process, even if police are not able to locate the driver.

Contact –

If you have been charged with one of these violations or any other traffic accident lawyers, be sure to give us a call at Sam McRae Law, LLC.