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Hit-and-Run, § 346.67(1) – Element of “Accident”: May Encompass Intentional Conduct

State v. Stephen D. Harmon, 2006 WI App 214, PFR filed 10/26/06
For Harmon: Timothy A. Provis

Issue/Holding:

¶14      The “two clear purposes” of Wisconsin’s hit-and-run statute are:

    (1) to ensure that injured persons may have medical or other attention with the least possible delay; and (2) to require the disclosure of information so that responsibility for the accident may be placed.

State v. Swatek, 178 Wis. 2d 1, 7, 502 N.W.2d 909 (Ct. App. 1993) (citation omitted). Given these purposes, it is not reasonable to conclude that the legislature intended to limit “accident” to incidents that occurred through the “lack of intention” of the operator of the motor vehicle. The injured person needs prompt medical attention regardless of the intention of the operator of the motor vehicle. Similarly, the need for disclosure of information in order to place responsibility for the accident exists whether the operator acted with or without intent. Limiting the meaning of the word “accident” to unintentional conduct significantly undermines the purposes of the statute and is therefore not a reasonable construction.…

¶16      We conclude that the meaning of “accident” in Wis. Stat. § 346.67(1) is not limited to unintentional acts or events. Instead, the only reasonable meaning, when the word is considered in the context of the statute and in light of its purpose, is the broad meaning of “an unexpected, undesirable event.”

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