Leaving the Scene of an Accident

Reporter’s Note

The statute requires both knowledge of an accident and knowledge of resultant injury to either the person or property of another.  State v. Sidway, 139 Vt. 480, 484, 486 (1981). The level of knowledge required for each, however, is different. While actual knowledge of the accident is required, constructive knowledge of the resultant injury is sufficient to impose liability. Id.

Constructive knowledge entails “what an objective examination of the facts would reveal to a reasonable person.” State v. Keiser, 174 Vt. 87, 93 (2002). Thus, a defendant could be imputed with knowledge that a “reasonable person would have gathered from the circumstances of the accident or impact, i.e., what a reasonable evaluation of the circumstances would reveal.” Id. (citing Sidway, 139 Vt. at 485–86). Therefore, the trial’s court instruction on constructive knowledge in Keiser, which allowed the jury to impute to the defendant knowledge that a reasonable investigation of the circumstances of the accident would reveal, was consistent with Sidway, and was not reversible error. Limiting jurors to considering only the impact itself, the Court explained, would mean that jurors could consider “only that information an individual who was in an accident, but failed to stop, would have available.” Id. at 94. This would discourage individuals from stopping to investigate an impact, because they “might acquire actual knowledge placing them in a poorer position than the defendant who kept going.” Id.

The model instructions include two alternative bracketed options to explain the knowledge element. In a given case with circumstances that do not seem to fit either option, counsel should suggest additional alternative language to the court.