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Florida Courts Show a New Stance on Hit-and-Run Cases

In 2007, then 15-year-old Nicholas Savinon was enjoying a refreshing ride on his skateboard when things took a turn for the worst. It was on North Ocean Boulevard in Boca Raton, Florida when a devastating accident nearly took the unsuspecting teenager’s life. Nearby Coconut Creek resident Zachariah Dorsett was behind the wheel of his Ford F-250 with the radio turned up, seemingly inattentive when he collided with the skateboarder. However, the initial impact was only the beginning of a strenuous series of events. Savinon was dragged by the large pickup truck for over 40 feet; his skateboard broken and thrown aside. Had the driver stopped sooner, the injuries may have been less severe, but that’s the shocker: the driver kept going. As a matter of fact, Mr. Dorsett claimed that he was completely unaware of the accident when he was pulled over by authorities 3 miles down the road.

The accident left Nicholas with a severe traumatic brain injury; he was in a coma for weeks afterwards. Understandably so, his parents were devastated. In the criminal trial against Dorsett, he was sentenced to 2 years in prison for committing a hit-and-run. Leaving the scene of an accident that you were involved in—especially one that left someone hurt—is obviously illegal. However, the defendant (Dorsett) has maintained the same stance since the day of the accident 8 years ago, persistently and believably claiming that he truly had no idea he hit the kid. In 2013, because of his vigorous defensive position, his case was overturned by an appeals court and another trial was ordered to be held in a higher court; the Supreme Court. When the case finally progressed and made it to trial for another round of litigation, the Supreme Court agreed with the previous appeals court decision and once again overturned the case, not only shocking the Savinon family, but also surprising the masses with a 13-page ruling which stemmed from the case. 

The new Supreme Court ruling on hit-and-run cases is an eye-opener 

This ruling is centered on a phrase which is far from a new concept in legal proceedings, but it deals with it in a way that no other hit-and-run case has before. While it may seem like Dorsett is unquestionably responsible for his actions and should be punished accordingly, the criminal proceedings involved have proven to continuously stump every courtroom it’s entered until now. The ruling has now solidified that, at least in the state of the Florida, in order to prosecute anyone for a hit-and-run, you’ll need reasonable proof to show that the alleged criminal had “actual knowledge” of their involvement in an accident. In other words, if it’s not easily determinable that the hitter-and-runner knew (or should have known) that they hit-and-ran, the case is unlikely to proceed.

The controversy behind this new ruling is the mere fact that it sounds relatively unfair. When it’s put plainly, it sounds as if it would be nearly impossible to provide such proof, as no one is ever prepared for an accident, and even less prepared for a hit-and-run accident. However, it’s actually a very logical way for Florida courts to go about it. The “proof” required by these courts doesn’t have to be a gilded photograph with the driver admitting fault. Instead, it could be something as simple a damaged bumper on the car that fled the scene. With that said, if a vehicle has blatant damage, it’s likely to be more than enough proof to continue with criminal prosecution. After all, how could a driver be involved in a collision that leaves his vehicle physically damaged, but still be unaware? Furthermore, if a driver is truly incapable of determining when he’s been in an accident, they are unfit for motor vehicle operation. In a nutshell, Florida courts will now make sure that there’s clear evidence that a driver knew (or should have known) they were involved in the accident at all. After that is determined, the case will either proceed as it normally would before this ruling, or be tossed away for lack of evidence on the prosecutor’s part. 

Where does this leave the Savinons?

What made this hit-and-run case involving Nicholas Savinon so unique is the fact that there was no damage on Dorsett’s vehicle. On top of that, there were no skid marks on the road to signify an attempt to stop, and to authorities, it didn’t appear he was attempting to necessarily flee the scene. Instead, he simply continued en route to his destination, seemingly unaffected by the devastating accident that occurred due to his actions (or inactions) behind him. Due to those reasons, this case has seen better days. However, the criminal repercussions that Dorsett must live with are the last things on the mind of the Savinon family. Instead, they spend their days proud of their recovering son, now 22, who has made amazing progress since the accident. He has recently landed a part-time job at a Publix supermarket and continues to show health improvements.

It’s hard to tell where the case will end up in the future, but as of now, the Savinons are focusing on appreciating the fragility of life. Dorsett is currently free until the case makes its way back around to lower courts again, but the affect that this new ruling will have on the rest of this case and every future Florida hit-and-run trial is to be determined soon.  If you or a loved one has been injured in a hit-and-run accident due to someone else’s negligence, you may be eligible for significant financial compensation. To discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney for free, call Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today at 727-451-6900.

Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765