New Jersey Court Clarifies What It Means To Be “Involved In” a Hit-And-Run Accident
Last month, an appellate court ruled that New Jersey’s hit and run law does not require a driver to come in contact with a pedestrian in order to be “involved in” a hit and run accident. Prior to the court’s decision in State v. Sene, New Jersey’s courts had not yet ruled on whether contact between a defendant’s vehicle and a victim is required for a person to be charged with the crime of leaving the scene of an accident.
The case involved a taxi driver in Atlantic City who left the scene of a bus accident that killed an 88-year old pedestrian. The defendant in the case was driving a taxi in the left lane of Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City when a pedestrian stepped out into the taxi’s lane of traffic and attempted to cross the street. The pedestrian was either struck by the taxi and fell backwards, or stepped back without being struck by the taxi and fell. The pedestrian was subsequently run over by a jitney bus that was travelling behind the taxi in the right lane. The taxi driver claimed the he never actually hit the pedestrian, and therefore could not be charged with hit and run under the laws of New Jersey.
After hitting the pedestrian, the driver of the bus immediately stopped and called the police. The taxi driver, on the other hand, continued to drive to the next street, made a right-hand turn, parked his cab, and walked back to the accident scene. Although he saw police officers investigating the accident, the taxi driver did not speak to the investigating officers or identify himself as someone who had been involved in the accident. After hanging around for a few minutes, the taxi driver left the accident scene without speaking to anyone.
The bus had a dashboard camera onboard that recorded what had transpired. In addition, the Atlantic City police obtained surveillance footage from several nearby businesses and, from these videos, the police were able to identify the taxi and its driver. The taxi driver was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident, which is a second-degree crime in the State of New Jersey.
During the trial, the State of New Jersey called an accident investigator as an expert witness, who testified that the taxi did indeed hit the pedestrian, causing her to fall back into the path of the bus. This expert witness also testified that the bus did not have sufficient time to avoid hitting the pedestrian. An expert witness for the taxi driver, however, testified that he could not definitively determine if the taxi actually hit the pedestrian.
Attorneys for the taxi driver argued in court that their client could not be held criminally liable for violating New Jersey’s hit-and-run law, because they claimed that the taxi never actually hit the pedestrian. Under New Jersey law, “a motor vehicle operator who knows he [or she] is involved in an accident and knowingly leaves the scene of that accident . . . shall be guilty of a crime of the second degree.” The taxi driver’s attorneys argued that because their client did not hit the pedestrian, he was not “involved in an accident” and could not be held criminally liable for hit and run.
Setting aside the disputed issue of whether the taxi hit the pedestrian, the court ruled that the plain reading of New Jersey law “means that a driver whose actions contribute to an accident, and who knows of the causal relationship, must not leave the scene of the accident.” In its decision, the court cited the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which defines the word “involved” as “having a part in something,” and concluded that physical contact with a pedestrian is not required to be involved in an accident.
In addition, the court reasoned that the “defendant by his own admission saw the pedestrian, he abruptly stopped his taxi, the victim fell backwards and was then run over by the jitney bus. Under those facts, a reasonable person would know that he had been involved in an accident.”
If you or a loved one have been injured in a hit and run, please contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. The car accident lawyers at Seigel Law have helped thousands of individuals throughout New Jersey recover compensation for the damages they have incurred due to the negligent or wrongful acts of another. Because there is a time limit in which a personal injury lawsuit may be filed, it is important that you contact us as soon as possible to protect your legal rights.