Is a Car Accident Considered a Crime Scene?

Not every car accident is a crime scene, but the circumstances that caused the crash or the conduct of an involved party afterward may lead to a criminal investigation. If criminal charges are filed against one party in a car accident, the other party might have a stronger argument to recover damages for losses and injuries that were sustained in the crash.

The car accident attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman can help you recover damages if you were hurt in a car crash due to another driver’s negligence. It’s important to understand what actions you should take in the aftermath of an accident if police are investigating the crash as a crime.

Report the Accident to the Police

In every instance, the police will determine if a car accident is a criminal matter.  Even if no criminal charges are filed, you should always report your accident. In New York, you are obligated to report the crash within ten days after it happened if it resulted in a death or caused property damage over $1,000. That limit is $500 in New Jersey. Even if nobody was injured in the accident and the property damage was minimal, you will have a better opportunity to collect insurance payments for any damage if you have a police report that summarizes the details of the accident.

When a Car Accident is a Criminal Matter

Several situations will elevate a car accident into a crime scene:

  • A driver that leaves the scene of an accident can be charged with hit-and-run. This includes hitting an unoccupied parked car and driving away without leaving your contact information, failing to report damage to a street light or municipal sign, and in some cases hitting an animal. Even if you are in a rural area where police cannot easily come to an accident scene, you can best protect yourself from criminal hit-and-run charges by contacting the police as soon as is possible after a collision.
  • If a moving traffic infraction such as speeding and reckless driving precipitated the accident, the driver that committed the infraction might, at a minimum, receive a misdemeanor citation.
  • A motorist that causes an accident while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will almost certainly face criminal charges. If the accident resulted in serious injuries or death, the driver can be charged with assault or manslaughter that can lead to long prison sentences.
  • A car accident that is caused by a driver who is committing another crime, including, for example, fleeing from a police pursuit, will likely be treated as a crime scene.
  • New York and New Jersey have both enacted laws to ban texting while driving. If police investigators determine that a driver caused an accident due to texting distractions, the accident might be treated as a crime scene.    

How Criminal Charges Affect Recovery of Damages in a Car Accident Lawsuit

Establishing liability is important regardless of the “no-fault” car insurance laws in New York and New Jersey because an injured party will still have an opportunity to file a lawsuit in either state when certain conditions are met, such as when insurance policy limits are exceeded.

Both New York and New Jersey will also apply a “comparative negligence” standard to accident cases. That standard will reduce the total damages that an injured party may be able to recover in proportion to that party’s responsibility for an accident. If one driver receives a criminal citation following an automobile accident, the other party’s proportionate share of the blame for the accident will likely be lower or non-existent.     

Call Today for a Free Case Review

Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman represents car accident victims in Rockland and Bergen Counties, and elsewhere in New York and New Jersey. We have the knowledge and experience to evaluate how criminal charges affect liability and damages in automobile accident cases.

Call us to speak directly with an experienced car accident lawyer about recovering maximum damages for your car crash property losses and injuries.