Accidents Involving Injury
*Warning* The punishment for not stopping at accidents involving injury is a unique type of punishment!
Stress can cause a person to act differently. Most people would hopefully agree that a car accident can be a very stressful event. Further, most people would hopefully agree that we should make sure no one in injured after an accident. But, again, stress can sometimes cause a person to do something they wouldn’t normally do, including leaving an accident. The problem, though, is that leaving an accident may lead to criminal punishment, not just a personal injury case.
Texas Transportation Code § 550.021 defines the offense of “Accident Involving Personal Injury or Death.”
The statute states (in simplified language) that:
(a) The driver of a car involved in an accident that involves (or is reasonably likely to involve) injury or death shall immediately:
- Stop at the scene or as close to the scene as possible;
- Return to the scene if the car is not stopped at the scene;
- Determine whether a person involved in the accident is injured, and whether that person requires help; and
- Remain at the scene until information is gathered and aid (if needed) is given.
This is fairly straightforward. Where the statute becomes confusing, however, is where it defines the punishment for violating the statute. An accident involving serious injury or death is easy to understand. But, an accident involving simple injury seems to be a brand new type of punishment that seems to fit somewhere between a misdemeanor and a felony. In other words, just looking at the statute does not clarify whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor. Case law does say that it is “unambiguously” a felony since imprisonment (rather than confinement) is a possible punishment.
(c) a person commits an offense if the person does not stop or follow the rules above. An offense is:
- Involving an accident resulting in:
- Death is a second degree felony (2-20 years in prison, up to $10,000 fine, or combination)
- Serious bodily injury (think losing an arm or a leg) is a third degree felony (2-10 years in prison, up to $10,000 fine, or combination)
- Involving an accident resulting in injury (non-serious) is:
- imprisonment in Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) for not more than 5 years, or confinement in the county jail for not more than one year;
- a fine not to exceed $5,000; or
- both the fine and imprisonment/confinement.
- A State Jail Felony is: state jail 180 days – 2 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
- A Class A Misdemeanor is: Up to 1 year of jail, a fine up to $4,000, or a combination.