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People v. Schmidt: The Law on Failure to Report an Accident

November 8, 2016 Criminal Law and Procedure

The case of People v. Schmidt discusses the failure to report an accident statute. A violation of this law is commonly charged where a person got in an accident and only the driver’s vehicle was damaged, but no other car, person, or property was involved.

Failure to Report an Accident Statute

This law says an accident must be reported to the police where there was apparent damage to the driver’s vehicle in an amount over $1,000. This law is most relevant to single-car accidents, as there are several other sections of the law related to other leaving the scene of an accident provisions. MCL 257.622

What Happened in The Case

Mr. Schmidt had driven his truck into a river, and part of the truck was submerged underwater. That part of the truck could not be seen. Mr. Schmidt called the tow company, but did not call the police.

At trial, the responding deputy testified there was quite a bit of damage tot he truck’s front-end. The deputy declined to label the damage as “severe.” The judge permitted the deputy to make an opinion on the dollar figure of the apparent damage. Defense counsel objected to the deputy’s offer of opinion on the dollar amount of damage.

Mr. Schmidt took the stand and testified there was water damage to the engine and that the truck was considered a total loss by the insurance company.

It should be noted that when this case was decided the threshold amount for reporting was only $200, though now it’s $1,000.

Mr. Schmidt was found guilty and put on probation. He appealed.

The Law

Here’s what the Court of Appeals said about the law: The dollar figure amount of damage to the car is an essential element of the offense. Therefore, the prosecution has the burden of introducing evidence of value, either the opinion of a qualified expert or the testimony of a person with knowledge, under the rules of evidence.

In addition, jurors may not use their own private or secret information about an issue. Jurors may view the evidence presented in the light of their general knowledge of the field embraced within the scope of the question presented. Juror must make decisions based on the information received at trial.

Therefore, the Court said, jurors may not supply the only evidence of the value of the apparent damage.

In this case, the damage to the truck was from underwater submersion, an issue outside the scope of a juror’s general knowledge. There was no evidence presented of the actual value of damage, which the Court said must be a prerequisite to a person’s reporting requirement based on the apparent value.

What This Means For You The Driver

Getting into a single-car accident by itself does not necessarily trigger the duty to report an accident. There must be apparent damage of over $1,000. I see police all the time writing tickets to people who leave an accident after sliding off the road, even where there was no damage to anything at all. The case of People v. Schmidt makes clear there must be actual damage in addition to an accident.

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Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Lawyer.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108

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