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Hit-and-Run Accidents: More Common-and Deadly-than You Think

A HIT-AND-RUN TRAGEDY IN ENGLAND REACHES ALL THE WAY TO THE WHITE HOUSE

British teen Harry Dunn was killed in the U.K. on August 27, 2019, when his motorcycle was hit by a car driven by American Anne Sacoolas, who was driving on the wrong side of the road. Sacoolas was leaving a U.S. military base; she is married to a U.S. intelligence officer. She was granted diplomatic immunity and returned to the U.S. This week, Dunn’s parents came to the U.S. seeking justice for their son. They met with President Trump at the White House on October 15. At that meeting, President Trump reportedly surprised Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn (Harry Dunn’s parents) by telling them that Anne Sacoolas was on site and wanted to meet with them. They refused the impromptu meeting.

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY

Diplomatic immunity is a custom and concept that goes back thousands of years. At its core, it is about reciprocity of treatment: peoples, tribes and eventually countries pledge to treat emissaries of other peoples, tribes and countries how they wish their own emissaries to be treated when abroad. It is a principle that is crucial in a world where different values, norms and perspectives on human rights exist. The age-old concept of diplomatic immunity was codified in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) of 1961. The key aspect of the VCDR is the “inviolability” of diplomatic agents;” they shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention in the receiving state, and the receiving state shall treat him or her with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his or her person, freedom or dignity. (Article 29) Dependents can qualify for immunity if notified to and accepted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). 192 countries have signed on to the VCDR; the only U.N. countries not signatories to the convention are Palau, Solomon Islands, and South Sudan.

So why were Harry Dunn’s parents in the U.S. meeting with President Trump? Diplomatic immunity can only be waived by the sending state; the person with the immunity cannot waive their own immunity. Therefore, if the U.K. wishes to arrest Sacoolas, interview her and bring charges if appropriate, they can only do so if the U.S.—President Trump—waives her diplomatic immunity.

HIT-AND-RUN ACCIDENTS

Although the complication of diplomatic immunity is unusual, hit-and-run accidents are tragically common. Deaths due to hit-and-run crashes are on the rise. According to a recent report by the AAA, 2,049 fatalities occurred due to hit-and-run accidents in 2016, which was the highest number on record and a 60% increase since 2009. Every year since 2006, 682,000 hit-and-run crashes have occurred, with pedestrians and bicyclists comprising 65% of the people killed in those crashes. Experts theorize that one reason that the death rate has increased—but not necessarily the number of hit-and-run accidents—is that bigger vehicles have become much more common on the road and cause much more deadly injury when striking pedestrians and bicyclists. Adding to this danger is the increasing population density in urban areas as well as the rising number of people choosing to walk and/or bicycle to work. Hit-and-run deaths have increased app. 7.2% annually since 2009, with nearly 20% of all pedestrian deaths caused by hit-and-run crashes.

With nearly one hit-and-run crash occurring per minute on U.S. roads, it is important to understand the full ramifications of these types of accidents. Hit-and-run crashes have both civil and criminal liability. Fleeing the scene of an accident is illegal in every state; it is a separate charge from any charges that may or may not arise from an accident. In Georgia, a driver who leaves the scene of an accident can have his license suspended, be fined anywhere from $300-$1,000, and be given a jail sentence or probation of up to 12 months. If the accident causes serious injury or death, the driver that left the scene can be charged with a felony. A driver can also be civilly liable for medical bills, lost wages, and property damages.

A famous example of the intersection of diplomatic immunity, a hit-and-run crash, and criminal liability occurred in 1997. The Deputy Ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Georgia killed a 16-year-old girl from Maryland in a hit-and-run crash; it was determined that he had been driving while intoxicated. The Republic of Georgia waived the Ambassador’s immunity. He was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, and served 3 years in a North Carolina prison before being recalled to Georgia.

WHAT TO DO IF THE VICTIM OF A HIT-AND-RUN

If you are the driver of a vehicle and are ever the victim of a hit-and-run accident:

  1. Park or stop your vehicle in a safe place;
  2. Record as much information of the vehicle that struck you as possible, most importantly the license plate number and a description of it. If possible, take a picture of it (before it leaves the scene) with your phone;
  3. Call 911, and if you or anyone is injured, request medical attention be sent as well;
  4. If you are able to, look around the scene for witnesses; they are crucial in hit-and-run cases.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you know has been injured in a hit-and-run crash, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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