For far too long, Florida criminal law featured a gap that allowed intoxicated drivers to get away with lesser penalties if they fled the scene after killing a pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist in an auto accident.
If the driver stayed on the scene, the driver could be convicted of DUI manslaughter and face a minimum of four years in prison. However, if the driver fled the scene and stayed hidden long enough, law enforcement officers would be unable to determine the driver’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of the crash. The driver, in turn, would face only a two-year mandatory minimum sentence if found, arrested and convicted.
In other words, the law actually gave drivers an incentive to race away after a crash instead of staying and taking actions that could possibly save a person’s life.
Fortunately, a new law signed June 24, 2014, by Gov. Rick Scott has closed that gap. It’s called the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act. In addition to encouraging drivers to stay by providing tougher criminal penalties if they flee, the law could help victim’s families when they are seeking just compensation after a fatal crash.
Law Addresses Issue of Florida Hit-and-Run Accidents
The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act is named in honor of a 37-year-old man who was cycling when he was killed in February 2012 by a hit-and-run driver in Key Biscayne.
The driver turned himself in 17 hours after the crash. Because police could not determine his BAC at the time of the accident, he received only 22 months in prison, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
The bicycling community in Florida rallied support for passage of the bill (SB 102/HB183), and a website was created to provide information about it.
According to the website, Cohen’s death was one of 166 hit-and-run fatalities recorded in Florida in 2012 and among 70,000 total hit-and-run accidents. Out of those crashes, the majority involved pedestrians.
Clearly, something needed to be done to deter drivers from leaving the scene of an accident and to encourage them to stay and possibly render needed aid to the victim. In some cases, a victim’s injuries may actually be worsened by a driver speeding away with the victim dragged by or on top of the vehicle.
The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, which took effect at the start of July, addresses this issue in several ways, including:
- Establishing a four-year mandatory minimum sentence for leaving the scene of an accident that results in death
- Raising the mandatory minimum sentence from two years to four years for driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a fatal accident
- Revoking a driver’s license for three years for leaving the scene of an accident
- Enhancing penalties for causing accidents that injure “vulnerable road users,” which include motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Law Could Have Impact on Accident Claims
When drivers leave the scene of a crash involving a motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian, it can cause issues for victims or families seeking compensation through a personal injury or wrongful death claim.
In many cases, the injury victim or the family of one who was killed can turn to the at-fault driver’s liability insurance to compensate them for their losses. However, if the driver flees and cannot be located, the case becomes complex and may involve turning to one’s own uninsured (UIM) coverage or other forms of available coverage.
In this sense, by encouraging drivers to stay at the crash scene, the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act could also have an impact on civil claims and help families with the process of recovering the compensation they are due after a tragic crash.