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Is it Hit and Run if You Leave a Note?

It was just a love tap. Your car barely hit that other car. You can't even see the scratch unless you look closely. Should you stay? Should you go? Would it be hit and run?

Most of us know that when we get into a car accident, especially if someone may be hurt, we need to stay at the scene of the accident. Leaving would definitely be hit and run. But, what if there was only property damage? You hit an unoccupied car in the parking lot, and the owner is nowhere to be found. You don't have time to wait around, so you just leave a note with your name and phone number. Is that enough?

Is it still hit and run if you leave a note?

Required by Law

The law regarding hit and runs can vary from state to state.

Generally, if you're involved in an accident resulting in only property damage, you must notify the owner of the other car. If you can't find the owner, then you can "leave in a conspicuous place on the vehicle ... a written notice giving [your] name and address ... and a statement of the circumstances thereof."

So, you've left the note with your name, phone number, address, and license plate number. It's on bright yellow paper taped to the other car's windshield. Can you now pat yourself on the back and go on your merry way?

Nope! In some states, like California and New York, you also have to report the accident to the police as soon as possible. Just be safe, and do it immediately.

Beware the Consequences

Failing to leave a note and reporting to the police, could mean a fine or even jail time depending on your state's law:

  • New York -- Failure to leave your info is a traffic infraction. You may have to pay up to $250 and spend up to 15 days in jail.
  • Texas -- In Texas, it is a class C misdemeanor if the total damage to your car and the other car is less than $200. You may be punished with a fine up to $500. However, if the damage to both cars involved exceeds $200, you just committed a class B misdemeanor. This is punishable by a maximum fine of $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
  • California -- In California, hit and run resulting in property damage only is a misdemeanor. You could be sentenced to up to six months in jail and pay up to $1,000 in fines.

While California and Texas' punishments may seem severe, those sentences are only for hit and run accidents that only cause property damage. If you leave the scene of an accident that caused injury or death, the punishments will be much more severe.

If you've been arrested for hit and run, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help.

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