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Are the Details of Previous, Similar, Incidents Confidential?

Vehicle Code Section 20012 holds:

All required accident reports, and supplemental reports, shall be without prejudice to the individual so reporting and shall be for the confidential use of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of the California Highway Patrol, except that the Department of the California Highway Patrol or the law enforcement agency to whom the accident was reported shall disclose the entire contents of the reports, including, but not limited to, the names and addresses of persons involved or injured in, or witnesses to, an accident, the registration numbers and descriptions of vehicles involved, the date, time and location of an accident, all diagrams, statements of the drivers involved or occupants injured in the accident and the statements of all witnesses, to any person who may have a proper interest therein, including, but not limited to, the driver or drivers involved, or the guardian or conservator thereof, the parent of a minor driver, the authorized representative of a driver, or to any named person injured therein, the owners of vehicles or property damaged thereby, persons who may incur civil liability, including liability based upon a breach of warranty arising out of the accident, and any attorney who declares under penalty of perjury that he or she represents any of the above persons.

Does that mean that, if you’re in an accident, you can’t get these reports?

This was a question undertaken in the recent case of State of California v. Superior Court (Apr. 26, 2022, No. B315611) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 345, at *1].)

In that case, Mr. Paniagua was driving northbound on Walnut Canyon Road approaching a left curve in the roadway at Broadway Road. Defendant Kinsey was traveling eastbound on Broadway Road approaching Walnut Canyon Road. Kinsey allegedly failed to keep her vehicle in her lane of travel and struck Paniagua’s vehicle, killing him.

In 2019, plaintiffs/real parties in interest (Plaintiffs), the wife and minor children of Paniagua, sued Kinsey for negligence. They also sued the City of Moorpark, the City of Ventura, and the State of California for a dangerous condition on public property (Gov. Code, § 835) and negligent or wrongful act or omission of an employee. Plaintiffs allege: (1) prior to the accident on October 12, 2018, “other incidents of the same or similar type occurred at the same location as a result of vehicles crossing into opposing lanes of traffic and crashing into each other”; and (2) the location where the accident occurred was a dangerous curve and/or a dangerous section of public roadway that Moorpark, Ventura, and the State knew or should have known about.

During discovery, the State produced three traffic accident reports concerning accidents that occurred at or near the site of the October 12, 2018, accident. The names and contact information of the parties involved and witnesses to the prior traffic accidents were redacted from the reports. Plaintiffs propounded interrogatories seeking the names, addresses, and telephone numbers for all persons identified as parties or witnesses to the traffic accidents reported in the three redacted reports previously produced.

The State objected to the special interrogatories arguing, “The information requested is protected from disclosure by California Vehicle Code section 20012.” Plaintiffs filed a motion to compel further responses on the ground that they have a “proper interest” in the contents of the related traffic accident reports. Plaintiffs contended the facts of the three traffic collisions specified in the special interrogatories are substantially similar to the subject collision.

Plaintiffs contended that the three accidents occurred in the same place, that in each accident the southbound driver crossed over the center divider and collided head-on with the vehicle traveling in the northbound direction. In the three incidents, as well as in this case, serious injury or death resulted from the accidents. In its opposition to the motion to compel, the State did not dispute Plaintiffs’ characterization of the accidents as similar in nature to the current accident.

The superior court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to compel further responses to the special interrogatories. It concluded that accident reports prepared by peace officers are not confidential under section 20014, and, therefore, the confidentiality provisions of section 20012 do not apply.  The court did not reach the issue whether Plaintiffs were persons with a proper interest in the unredacted reports pursuant to section 20012. The court ordered the State to produce unredacted accident reports showing the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of involved parties and witnesses.

This State filed a petition for a writ of review – to avoid having to provide the requested names and information.

The Court of Appeal for the Second District heard the State’s review and held:

Plaintiffs have shown the accidents are similar in nature and the evidence of the reported accidents “either is itself admissible in evidence or appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 2017.010) There was no dispute in the superior court that the prior traffic accidents occurred in the same location, under similar circumstances, and similarly resulted in serious injuries or death. This is sufficient to demonstrate that Plaintiffs are persons with a “proper interest” in obtaining the unredacted accident reports they seek. (§ 20012.) The court’s detour arrived at the right destination. There was no error in granting Plaintiffs’ motion to compel further responses to the special interrogatories.

State of California v. Superior Court (Apr. 26, 2022, No. B315611) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 345, at *10-11].

 

Mr. Serrano has been admitted to practice before California State and Federal Courts. He was named to the Super Lawyers’ 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 Southern California Rising Stars List, an honor awarded to no more than 2.5% of attorneys in Southern California each year. View Attorney Jean-Simon Serrano's Attorney Bio Here.

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