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Florida Supreme Court Defines What “Involved in a Crash” Means in a Hit-and-Run Scenario

In Florida, hit-and-run statutes have become increasingly more stringent with more serious punishments as a result. When a car is involved in a collision, the driver must stop the vehicle at the site of the crash and must remain at the scene as he or she has a duty to provide information about the crash and his/her name, address, and vehicle information, and provide assistance to the other person in the crash if that person is injured. If the driver does not follow these rules of the road, he/she may be charged with a hit-and-run, which has more serious punishments attached than the punishments for solely being responsible for the car crash and related injuries.

Applicability of Language and How Cases Can Turn on a Phrase

Recently, the Florida Supreme Court reviewed the statute to determine the exact meaning of the hit-and-run statute’s wording of “involved in a crash”. Though plain meaning is always important when evaluating the law, sometimes semantics may come into play, especially when serious criminal liability may attach (or may not attach) depending on the facts within each case.

Gaulden v. State and Hit-and-Run Liability

The case the Florida Supreme Court reviewed was Gaulden v. State where a driver was convicted of a hit-and-run offense for his involvement in an accident where his passenger died as a result. According to the criminal defendant, he believed that the hit-and-run offense did not attach because he was not “involved in a crash” in the way in which the language was intended. The facts of the case were crucial in this assessment. The driver picked up a passenger in his truck. Ten minutes after picking up the passenger, they began to argue. The truck stopped, the passenger opened the door, the truck sped up and swerved, and the passenger fell out of the truck as a result. The driver believed he was going slow enough where the passenger would suffer minimal to no injury. However, the passenger, who was flung out of the truck, was found dead resulting from a fractured skull. The driver was convicted of the hit-and-run statute for leaving the scene of the crash without satisfying the information and assistance requirements.

What Does “Crash” Mean?

To the Florida Supreme Court, the understanding of “involved in a crash” has a specific meaning. “Crash” requires that there is powerful contact between objects, persons, or animals. Because the passenger had fallen out of the truck, and there was no evidence of forceful contact that would lead the triers of fact to believe that it was indeed a “crash” in the plain meaning definition, the Supreme Court held that there was no crash.

The Importance of Legislative Intent in Understanding Plain-Meaning Definitions

The defense was also able to show that legislative intent had provided some implicit guidance and understanding of this specific, plain-meaning definition for “crash”. When the hit-and-run law had been drafted initially, the language used was that the criminal defendant was “involved in an accident” which denotes a more broad understanding of this situation. “Accident” can include any injury or death that resulted from either unfortunate circumstances or bad judgment on any or both of the parties involved. It does not require “contact” in the same way that “crash” requires “contact”. Because the Florida legislature had recently changed the statute language from “accident” to “crash”, it was sending an implicit guidance that the applicability of the statute was to a very specific fact pattern where forceful contact is made.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been charged for your involvement in a hit-and-run, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can advocate on your behalf and guide you through the criminal proceedings. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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