Car crash victims of hit and run accidents face lots of obstacles when trying to recover against the unsafe driver. Of course there is the obvious problem of trying to locate the driver who actually caused the accident for injured motorists, pedestrians, joggers and cyclists. Even for those plaintiffs who are fortunate enough to track down the defendant, there might be additional obstacles. For example in the DC metro area, the fact that the car accident was a hit and run is generally not admissible during the trial. That means the jury will never hear that the defendant was so irresponsible as to not even stop after the accident. Why on earth is this the law?
In order to win a car accident case against another driver, a plaintiff must prove that the hit and run driver is at fault for causing the accident. In other words, did the hit and run driver do something irresponsible in the time leading up to the accident in order to cause the accident ? Maybe the driver was intoxicated, speeding, running a red light, driving without a license, or even texting on their cell phone. The driver could have been doing any number of things, but the key is that the court wants the jury to focus on the time period before the accident happened. In legal-speak, the relevant facts for the jury are the facts about the driver’s behavior that might show he or she caused the accident.
Yet, when most of us hear that a driver fled the scene of an accident, we immediately jump to the conclusion that the driver is at fault for the accident—regardless of anything else the driver did. It is precisely jumping to that conclusion that the courts are trying to prevent. Juries are supposed to make their decisions based only on facts—not emotions or assumptions. Allowing the jury to hear evidence that the accident was a hit and run is just encouraging them to be prejudiced against the defendant.
As much as the plaintiff may want the jury to hear this information and to hear just how callously the defendant acted, the courts have to make sure that the defendant receives a fair trial. But there is some consolation for injured plaintiffs. While it is possible that the jury in your case may not hear that the accident was a hit and run, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the defendant is getting a free ride. Most states—including Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia—have statutes making it a crime to flee the scene of an accident.