Monday, November 5, 2012

PA appellate court defines "involved" in an accident

Last week, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that a driver who causes an accident without actually striking anything with his or her vehicle can still be convicted of leaving the scene following an accident involving death or personal injury.

Gina Passarello writes, in The Legal Intelligencer, about Christopher Anthony Lowry who argued that while he recklessly turned his car in front of other vehicles, causing them to crash and someone to die, there was not enough evidence to convict him of being "involved" in an accident because his vehicle didn't strike anything.

The three-judge Superior Court panel noted in Commonwealth v. Lowry the Motor Vehicle Code does not define what it means to be "involved" in an accident. The judges said Lowry's argument is one of first impression for the court that required it to determine whether Section 3742 of the code requires a defendant to physically impact a vehicle, object or other person for the defendant to be deemed "involved" in an accident.

Section 3742 requires a driver involved in an accident that results in injury or death to another person to stop and remain on the scene, wrote Passarello.

"To interpret Section 3742 to require some form of physical contact would permit defendants to circumvent that intent," Judge Judith F. Olson said. "For example, under [Lowry's] interpretation of Section 3742, a driver who intentionally runs someone off the road, yet does not contact the other vehicle, and then flees the scene, would not be guilty of a Section 3742 violation (although he may be guilty of other offenses). Certainly, such an absurd result was not the General Assembly's intent when it passed Section 3742."

In October 2009, Lowry pulled out of a gas station toward Route 51 in Jefferson Hills Borough in Allegheny County. A witness testified that Lowry made a left turn across two lanes of traffic onto the highway. Lowry, according to the witness, crossed into the path of oncoming traffic. The witness said Lowry's tires spun and smoke came out of the front tires as he sped out of the gas station, according to the opinion.

The driver of an SUV hit his brakes, which the witness said appeared to lock up, causing the driver to fishtail and hit a car coming in the opposite direction. The driver of the car coming in the opposite direction was killed, Olson said.

Passarello wrote, Lowry acknowledged that he pulled into traffic and was nearly involved in an accident. But he argued that he was able to avoid an accident and had no way of knowing that cars behind him were then in an accident, as he had driven around a bend and merged into traffic.

The Superior Court said the jury rejected that argument and instead accepted the facts presented by the state, which included the fact that the accident caused a very loud noise and scattered debris.

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