Can a Witness Leave the Scene of an Accident?

Given the number of vehicles on the road and the high incidence of distracted driving, your odds of witnessing a crash are relatively high. Whether it’s a fender bender or a massive pile-up, witnessing an auto accident can be a stressful, traumatic event. Should you stop to help the victims and call for help? And, legally speaking, can a witness leave the scene of an accident without repercussions?

If your actions did not contribute to or cause the accident, then no, you are not obliged to stay at the car crash scene. There is no law that states a witness must stay and rescue another person or provide a statement to police.

Legal duties of car accident witnesses

Regardless of legal duty, many witnesses opt to remain at the scene with the hopes of helping others and perhaps even saving a life. In the end, victims of negligent driving may benefit from personal eyewitness testimony that clarifies what really happened. Police will take detailed notes of your account that can help establish liability, especially if you saw blatant acts of reckless driving or behavior.

The car accident lawyers of Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman appreciate how unsettling this situation can be. Bystanders who witness a crash are encouraged to stay at the scene, cautiously offer assistance, and offer a report of what they have seen.

Good Samaritan Laws

Both New Jersey and New York have Good Samaritan Laws that protect people who act in good faith when they witness an accident and try to provide help. These laws are designed to shield rescuers from liability if they call 911 or offer some type of urgent medical assistance. So long as you are providing help and emergency assistance with good intentions, you cannot be held accountable for civil damages.

For example, you see a horrific rollover crash and attempt to pull the victim from the car before it erupts into flames. It is your belief that this is the only way to save the accident victim’s life. You have no medical training but are acting as a good Samaritan in an effort to help another. If your actions result in harming the victim further, you cannot be held liable for personal injury damages.

If you have witnessed a car accident and remain at the scene, the following steps can help you stay safe and provide the best assistance.

Be better prepared with these tips

While many people want to be a hero, it’s important to ensure your own safety after witnessing an accident. If you are behind the wheel, pull your vehicle over, put on your hazard lights and take a moment to collect your thoughts and assess the scene. You want to keep your vehicle at least 100 feet from the wreck, in the event of a fuel leak or other hazardous conditions. Be cautious of broken glass and shards of metal littering the area.

Call 911 and give as much detail about your location and the type of crash. Just because other witnesses are around doesn’t mean the police or first responders are on their way.

Approach the accident scene with extreme caution, especially if you are on a heavily-trafficked road. Ask if everyone is okay, and resist the urge to extricate a victim from wreckage or provide medical assistance unless it’s a life and death situation. If ambulances are on their way, and no one is seriously injured, it’s better to offer kind words and wait for authorities to arrive.

Once the police arrive, you can identify yourself as an eyewitness. Providing a detailed account of what you saw can be very useful when determining the cause of an accident.

Speak with car accident attorneys at KGG

If you witnessed or were involved in an automobile accident and have legal questions, Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman are here to help.  Our experienced car accident lawyers serve clients throughout Bergen County, NJ and Rockland County, NY. Reach out today and schedule a free consultation.