Duties of Drivers Involved in Motor Vehicle Accidents

Wednesday, 18 September 2013 Posted in Attorney Articles

Most everyone knows that when you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, you need to wait for the appropriate law enforcement agency to arrive at the scene of the accident before leaving to produce your license, registration and insurance information. However, there are other considerations you should be aware of as well.

The most common issue pertains to whether a vehicle should be moved after an accident. South Carolina Code of Laws Section 56-5-1210 enunciates most of the duties of drivers involved in accidents. Specifically that section states that a person involved in an accident resulting in an injury to a person shall stop at the scene of the accident and remain until providing license, registration and insurance. A person is authorized to temporarily leave the scene to report the accident to the proper authorities. However, this statute has been on the books from as early as the 1940s. Now that we have cell phones and modern technology, I would suggest never leave the scene of the accident with the exception of possibly seeking emergency medical treatment or for security or safety reasons.

Another question that often arises is whether or not you should move your vehicle from the roadway. Section 1210 states that "the stop must be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary." However in cases involving accidents resulting in great bodily injury or death, the vehicle shall not be moved until it is authorized by the investigating law enforcement officer. On the other hand, when there is only property damage or minor injuries, reasonable efforts should be made to move vehicles capable of being driven safely off the roadway so as not to obstruct traffic.

There are other responsibilities which may surprise you. The first is found is Section 56-5-1230, which requires the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in an injury to render reasonable assistance, including the carrying or making arrangements for the carrying of such person to a physician, surgeon or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that such treatment is necessary or such care is requested by the injured person. Again, this statute appears to be on the books as early as 1952, and therefore, it does not necessarily conform with the practices we are familiar with, which is limited to retrieving your cell phone and dialing 911. However, this statute does place an affirmative duty on anyone involved in an accident to provide aid, regardless of whether that person was at fault.

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person is required to immediately report by the quickest means of communication such action to local law enforcement under Section 56-5-1260. Finally, Section 56-5-1280 even places an affirmative duty on passengers to report an accident when the driver is physically incapable of making a report, and in the event an owner of a vehicle finds that the driver did not report an accident, the owner is required to make the report within five days of the accident.

These reporting obligations may surprise many, but they are the law in the State of South Carolina. With modern means of communication and a large body of law enforcement officers in the state, many of these reporting obligations have been forgotten. Nonetheless, they are important. In my personal experience and in handling a multitude of personal injury cases, I rarely see reporting issues come into play. However we have experienced several cases where a driver leaves the scene of an accident. In addition to being a criminal violation, generally when the opposing party leaves the scene that helps our case even if the at fault party subsequently returns.

Another nugget of advice is to not be afraid to get out your cell phone and take photographs of the scene and vehicles. This is particularly true in the event there are no independent witnesses or a liability dispute. The location of the vehicles within an intersection or roadway, the point of impact and skid marks are important in determining liability. If the accident occurred at night and lights were not working on the at-fault vehicle, take a picture.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding a motor vehicle accident, please feel free to contact my office.

~ Gary I. Finklea (September 2013)