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Failing to Report Property Damage in a Car Accident Can Lead to Jail Time

When you are involved in a minor traffic accident with another car, you should always get out and exchange information with the other driver. The same applies if you are involved in an accident that damages a fixture or structure while driving–you should always notify the property owner there has been an accident. Indeed, failure to provide such notice is a traffic violation that can lead to serious jail time.

Dallas-area Man Sentenced to 6 Months After Hitting Concrete Pole in Wal-Mart Parking Lot

Take this recent case from the Dallas area, Thursby v. State. The defendant here was charged with leaving the scene of a Wal-Mart parking lot after striking a concrete pole. At trial, the manager of the Wal-Mart testified that she was at the front of the store when she “felt the building shift.” The manager went to the door and saw a “red truck” had hit the pole. The manager said she saw the driver of the truck get out of the vehicle and walk away. The manager yelled for him to stop but he “just continued walking.”

A local police officer recognized the truck. He also knew the defendant was the driver. Prosecutors subsequently charged the defendant with failing to “take reasonable steps to locate and notify” Wal-Mart of the accident, which is a misdemeanor offense.

smashed headlight

The defendant testified that he did return to Wal-Mart the next day and spoke with another manager about the accident. But the defendant never subpoenaed that manager to testify, and the state did not rely on this person as a witness. The defendant also insisted that Wal-Mart was promptly notified of the accident by his insurance company. Indeed, the defendant’s insurer cut a check to Wal-Mart about one week after the accident.

A jury ultimately found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to 180 days in jail. The Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction in a July 1 opinion. The appeals court noted that Texas law expressly required the defendant to notify Wal-Mart about the accident. The fact his insurance company made contact was insufficient. And even though the defendant claimed he informed another manager, the manager who testified said she never spoke to the defendant, nor was there any record of him speaking with anyone else at the store. Under these circumstances, the Fifth District said the jury was free to conclude that the defendant “failed to take reasonable steps to locate or notify the person in charge of the property” following the accident.

Speak with a Houston Traffic Violations Defense Lawyer Today

When it comes to any kind of traffic accident, even one that only damages property, it is never a good idea to flee the scene. You should always wait for the police to make an official report, and if property is damaged, you need to make sure the owner is informed promptly. Any delay on your part could lead to the type of serious criminal charges described above.

If you need further advice or representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today. Call (281) 280-0100