Proposed Changes to New Jersey Hit-and-Run Laws
At about 12:30 pm on December 15, 2010, Millville, New Jersey, police officers investigated a report of a body on the side of Silver Run Road. When they arrived, they found 36-year-old Edward Morrison unresponsive on the roadside. Medical personnel transported Morrison to a hospital, where doctors pronounced Morrison dead about an hour later.
Police offered a $1,500 reward for information about what happened to Morrison and they received a tip the next day that a local man’s 2000 Hyundai Elantra appeared to have been in an accident. When police questioned Robert Eisele, Jr., the owner of the car, he maintained that he damaged his car when he had hit a deer. Eisele had even gone so far as to smear deer meat and ribs on the front of his car to bolster his story.
Police arrested Eisele and the Cumberland County prosecutor charged him with second degree leaving the scene of a fatal accident, third degree obstruction, and fourth degree tampering with evidence.
New Jersey Lawmakers Respond
In February 2010, New Jersey state senator Jeff Van Drew proposed legislation in the New Jersey Senate in response to the circumstances surrounding Morrison’s death. His bill, and the counterpart introduced by Assembly members Nelson Albano and Matt Milam, would elevate destruction of evidence, tampering with evidence, or giving false information to the police after fleeing the scene of a fatal car accident to a third degree offense. If the bill becomes law, it will be called “Eddie’s Law” in Morrison’s memory.
A person convicted of a fourth degree offense in New Jersey faces 18 months in prison and up to a $1,000 fine. But third degree offenses in New Jersey subject a person to a potential prison term of three to five years and a fine of up to $10,000. In addition to increased prison time and potentially higher fines, a conviction under Eddie’s Law would mean that the offender would have to serve at least 85 percent of the prison sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
New Jersey Laws Governing Hit-and-Run Accidents
New Jersey motorists are legally obligated to stop if they are involved in an accident that results in personal injury, death or property damage. The must also share the following information with the driver and passengers in the other vehicle involved in the accident, as well as police at the scene and any witnesses to the accident:
- Their legal name
- A current address
- Drivers license number
- Vehicle registration number
If no one at the scene of an accident involving personal injury or death is in a condition to receive such information and the police are not there, the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident must go to a police station and report the accident. They are also required to give reasonable medical assistance to any injured party, including taking the injured person to a hospital if it appears that medical attention is necessary or if the victim requests it.
If the accident involved damage to an unattended vehicle or other property, the driver of the car must leave his or her name and address on a note in a conspicuous place on the damaged vehicle. If the damaged property is something other than a vehicle, the driver is obligated to go to the police and report it.
The law presumes that the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident causing personal injury or death has knowledge of the incident. Additionally, the law presumes the driver of a vehicle involved in a collision resulting in at least $250 of property damage knows of the damage. It is no defense for the driver to say that he or she did not know that there was personal injury, death or damage to property if the driver knew that he or she was involved in an accident.
Other New Jersey Laws Protecting Hit-and-Run Victims
Eddie’s Law would not be the first piece of legislation passed by New Jersey lawmakers in response to a fatal car crash. In 2007, the legislature passed “Skinner and Michelle’s Law,” named for two victims of hit-and-run drivers. This law changed knowingly leaving the scene of a fatal accident from a third degree offense to a second degree offense. In New Jersey, a second degree offense carries a penalty of five to ten years in prison and a fine up to $150,000. Skinner and Michelle’s Law also increased knowingly leaving the scene of an accident which results in serious injury from a fourth degree crime to a third degree crime.
In addition to facing criminal penalties, a person who fails to remain at the scene of an accident causing personal injury or death risks losing his or her New Jersey driver’s license for a year for the first offense and permanently for subsequent offenses. A person who flees the scene of an accident where there is property damage faces losing his or her New Jersey driver’s license for six months for the first offense and one year for further offenses.
Hit-and-run accidents cause heartbreak and loss to injury victims and wrongful death survivors. If you have been the victim of a hit-and-run driver, do not hesitate to contact an experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney to learn about your options for pursuing damages.