Jacek Stramski |

On July 7, the Supreme Court of Florida considered what it means for a vehicle to be “involved in a crash” for purposes of section 316.027, Florida Statutes. Gaulden v. State (SC14-399). The Court concluded in a per curiam decision that where a passenger is separated from a vehicle but the vehicle does not collide with that passenger or any other object, there is no crash under the hit and run statute, and therefore no criminal liability under that statute for a driver who leaves the scene of such an accident.

In 2010, Gaulden picked up a passenger in his truck. About 10 minutes later, the two became involved in an argument. The truck stopped in the roadway and the passenger opened the door. The truck the accelerated and swerved, and the passenger was no longer in the truck. Although the truck was moving when the passenger exited the truck, Gaulden did not think that the truck was traveling quickly enough to injure the passenger. The passenger was found dead next to the roadway with injuries consistent with tumbling across the road, including a fractured skull. Gaulden was convicted of violating section 316.027(1)(b), Florida Statutes, which prohibits leaving the scene of a crash that results in death without complying first with section 316.062, Fla. Stat., which in turn imposes aid and reporting requirements. The First District Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction. Gaulden v. State, 132 So. 3d 916 (Fla. 1st DCA).

The Court asserted that the meaning of the term “involved in a crash” would be critical in determining if there could be criminal liability in this case. The Court looked at the plain meaning of the term “crash,” and concluded that forceful contact with an object, person, or animal was necessary for there to be a crash. In this case, since there was no evidence that the vehicle came into forceful contact with anything, there was no crash under the meaning of the statute. The Court asserted that such an interpretation was bolstered by the fact that the legislature revised the hit-and-run statute in 1999, and replaced “accident” with “crash” to describe collisions involving motor vehicles. The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the DCA and remanded the case for application of its opinion.

When is an Accident a Crash under Florida’s Hit and Run Statute?
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