Welcome to our weekly series, Friday Q&A. Each week our attorneys will respond to a question selected from the many received by direct and online submission. Have a question you want answered or topic you want to hear more about? Submit your suggestions to us by tweeting @TLOBJ or sending a message to our Facebook Page.
Question: I was charged with failure to stop after an accident after I hit a street sign; I don’t understand how I was supposed to leave my information on the sign.
Answer: Ohio has a law that addresses accidents on public roads and highways (R.C. 4549.02); accidents on roads other than public roads and highways (R.C. 4549.021); and accidents that involve damage to real property (land) or personal property attached to real property (mailbox, lamp post, or the like) (R.C. 4549.03).
In the case where the driver of a vehicle has an accident that results in damage to real property (i.e. you tear up someone’s yard) or personal property attached to real property (i.e. you run over a mailbox), the driver must immediately stop and take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of the property of damage; further the driver must notify that owner of the driver’s name and address, the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving, and upon request and if available, the driver should display his or her driver’s license or commercial driver’s license. If the driver can’t locate the property owner after a reasonable search, the driver must contact local law enforcement (police, sheriff) where the accident occurred within twenty-four hours.
The failure to take reasonable steps to leave your identifying information could result in a charge of failure to stop after an accident pursuant to R.C. 4549.03 – a misdemeanor of the first degree. In addition to the potential of up to 180 days in jail and up to $2500 fine; moreover, a driver charged with failure to stop after an accident involving property damage must show proof of financial responsibility or face court-ordered restitution for any damages.
In the instance where you’ve hit a street sign or lamp post, the property owner is the city, township, or county that you are in. In that case, contacting the local police or county sheriff and providing the necessary information would suffice as providing the notice required under the law.
If a parked car had been struck rather than a street sign, the driver would have the responsibility to leave a note in a conspicuous place in or on the unoccupied or unattended vehicle. The note should contain the following information: the driver’s name and address; the name and address of the owner of the motor vehicle; the registered number of the motor vehicle; and driver’s license or commercial driver’s license information.
Note that in the case where an accident occurs with an occupied car, the requirements are different depending on the setting and the severity of the crash. On a public roadway, a driver has a duty to stop and remain at the scene, and further, to contact law enforcement and emergency services if the other driver or any other person is injured. See, R.C. 4549.02. On a nonpublic roadway the driver has a duty to stop and provide information to the property owner or driver, but may also provide that information to local law enforcement within twenty-four (24) hours depending on the circumstances.
In sum, a good rule would be to always stop and provide your identifying information, even if only as a note inside the mailbox that you struck; call for emergency help if the situation demands it (because of injury or downed electrical lines, or other dangerous situation); and notify law enforcement, either through by contacting police in the moment or filing a report within twenty-four (24) hours of the incident.