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AGO 1963 No. 74 - December 11, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- ACCIDENT ‑- DAMAGE TO PROPERTY FIXED OR PLACED UPON OR ADJACENT TO ANY PUBLIC HIGHWAY ‑- NOTICE TO OWNER.

(1) The second paragraph of RCW 46.52.010 requires a driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in damage to property fixed or placed upon or adjacent to any "public highway," to take reasonable steps to give notice of the automobile driver's and owner's name to the owner or person in charge of the damaged property.  (Under requisite circumstances private parking lot would be a public highway.See, AGO 63-64 No. 25.)

(2) The phrase "property adjacent to a public highway" as used in RCW 46.52.010 means: 

"Property"‑-everything that has exchangeable value and every interest or estate which the law regards of sufficient value for judicial recognition ‑-   

"Adjacent"‑-near to or close to, but not required to be directly abutting or adjoining‑-a public highway.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                               December 11, 1963

Honorable Alf M. Jacobsen
Prosecuting Attorney
Klickitat County
Goldendale, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 74

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested the opinion of this office on questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Does the second paragraph of RCW 46.52.010 apply to a situation where the driver of a vehicle is involved in an accident within the confines of a private parking lot situated adjacent to a public highway, which accident results in damage to property fixed or placed upon the parking lot?

            (2) What is the meaning of the phrase, as used in the statute, "property adjacent to a public highway" in terms of kinds of property and distance from the public highway?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We answer your questions in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            (1) RCW 46.52.010 provides as follows:

            "The operator of any vehicle which collided with any other vehicle which is unattended shall immediately stop and shall then and there either locate and notify the operator or owner of such vehicle of the name and address of the operator and owner of the vehicle striking the unattended vehicle or shall leave in a conspicuous place in the vehicle struck a written notice, giving the name and address of the operator and of the owner of the vehicle striking such other vehicle.

            "The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only indamage to property fixed or placed upon or adjacent to any public highway shall take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of such property of such fact and of the name and address of the operator and owner of the vehicle striking such property, or shall leave in a conspicuous place upon the property struck a written notice, giving the name and address of the operator and of the owner of the vehicle so striking the property, and such person shall further make report of such accident as in the case of other accidents upon the public highways of this state."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Your first question assumes the following: (1) That the driver of a vehicle is involved in an accident which occurs within the confines of a private parking lot situated adjacent to a public highway, and (2) that the result of the accident is the damaging of property fixed or placed upon the accident area.  Under these circumstances, must the driver of the vehicle comply with the duty prescribed in the second paragraph of RCW 46.52.010 as set forth above?

            At the outset we note that the duty imposed upon a driver pursuant to this statute is additional to that imposed under RCW 46.52.030, requiring the filing of an accident report.

            We have previously concluded that the latter statutory duty is  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] applicable to "all accidents occurring within this state without regard to the place of occurrence."  AGO 61-62 No. 63 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Pend Oreille County on September 19, 1961]].

            The statute in question imposes a duty upon the driver of a vehicle if he is involved in an accident which results only in damage to property fixed or placedeither upon any public highway or adjacent to any public highway.  From the language of the statute it is clear that the imposition of this duty isnot conditioned upon the circumstance that theaccident itself must occur upon or adjacent to a public highway, but, that the qualifying language "fixed or placed upon or adjacent to any public highway" refers solely to the location of the damaged property.  Therefore, we do not consider the location whereat the accident occurred to be determinative of when the statute applies to a particular situation.

            Rather, we are of the opinion that this determination must rest solely upon whether the damaged property is "fixed or placed upon or adjacent to a public highway."

            As noted above, the statute imposes a duty in alternate situations, one of which is that a duty is imposed where the damaged property is fixed or placed upon a public highway.  We have recently expressed our opinion that the term "public highway" whenever used in the motor vehicle laws refers to any place, way, street, etc. where ". . . people are accustomed to congregate in automobiles in numbers sufficient to constitute a use by the public."  AGO 63.64 No. 25.  Pursuant to this definition a place which in terms of ownership is a private parking lot may be a public highway.  Thus a driver damaging property situated upon a private parking lot, which does qualify as a public highway, would, of course, come within the scope of the statute under the first alternative.  Consequently, we will assume for purposes of your question that the place whereupon the damaged property is situated does not qualify as a public highway, and will address ourselves to the meaning to be given to the phrase "property adjacent to any public highway."

            RCW 46.52.010 was enacted in its present form as § 137, chapter 189, Laws of 1937, and was re‑enacted [[reenacted]]as chapter 12, Laws of 1961 (RCW 46.52.010).  It is an apparent adoption, with some changes, and modifications, of two sections of the Uniform Vehicle Code.1/   Although  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] these provisions of the Uniform Code have been adopted by many states, they have seldom been invoked and there are few, if any, reported decisions directly construing them.2/   Therefore a resort to general principles of law is necessary.

            The general rule regarding the meaning to be given to the word "adjacent" when used in a statute or otherwise is as follows: (1 C.J.S., Adjacent, p. 1464.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            "The word 'adjacent' is of Latin derivation from 'ad-jaceo,' to lie at, or near.  It has been said thatthe word has no arbitrary meaning or definition, but that the term is a relative and not a definite and absolute one, and the exact meaning of which, in any particular case, is determinable principally by the context in which it is used, the facts and circumstances of the case, the subject matter to which it is applied, or the intent of the Legislature or the parties; and the word is usually to be given a broad substantial construction and not limited to the literal meaning as defined by lexicographers."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Courts have generally adhered to this view in giving meaning to the word and in some instances have defined it as meaning "near to" or "neighboring or close to" and in other instances as meaning "adjoining, contiguous or abutting."  See,Plunkett v. Weddington, (Ky.) 318 S.W.2d 885 (1958);Grudnosky v. Bislow, 88 N.W.2d 847 (1958); In re Clark's Estate, 141 N.E.2d 259 (1956); State v. District Court of Ninth Judicial District, 276 P.2d 969 (1954); State v. Camper, 261 S.W.2d 465 (1953); Alabama Great Southern R. Co. v. Russell, 48 So.2d 239 (1949);Bituminous Casualty Corporation v. Walsh & Wells, Inc., 170 S.W.2d 117 (1943);Jacobs Concessions, Inc. v. United States Fidel. & G. Co., 28 A.2d 858 (1942); Long v. London & Lancashire Indemnity Co. of America, 119 F.2d 628 (1941).  See, also, Words and Phrases, Vol. 1, Adjacent, p. 68.

            In one instance a court has construed the phrase ". . .immediately adjacent to, a traveled portion of a highway. . ." as used in a provision of a motor vehicle code, to mean adjoining or abutting because of the qualifying term "immediately."  The court stated:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            "The word 'adjacent' in its ordinary usage means 'near to' or 'close to,' but does not imply actual physical contact as do the words 'adjoining' or 'abutting.'  If the legislature had used only the word 'adjacent' in the section referred to, we would have to agree with the trial court's application of the statute to the facts in this case. . . . When 'immediately' is used to qualify the word 'adjacent,' the phrase takes on the meaning of 'adjoining,' . . ." (p. 673)(Superior Steel Products Corp. v. Zbytoniewski, 70 N.W.2d 671, 270 Wis. 245 (1955.))

            Whether the word as used in RCW 46.52.010 is to be given a broad or narrow interpretation must depend upon the purpose of the statute. Our motor vehicle laws, generally, are regulatory measures enacted for the protection of the welfare and safety of the motoring public.  State ex rel. Ralston v. Dept. of Lic., 60 Wn.2d 535, 374 P.2d 571 (1962);Gnecchi v. State, 58 Wn.2d 467, 364 P.2d 225 (1961).  It is evident, however, that the primary purpose of the statutory provision in question is the protection of property owners by requiring a driver who damages property, other than vehicles, to identify himself.  See Donigan and Fisher and Fisher, supra, footnote 2.  Unlike RCW 46.52.020, this provision does not involve any element of injury to persons or damage to vehicles.  The purpose of the statute would not be served by extending its protection only to property owners whose property directly abuts or adjoins the highway.3/   Rather, the protection of property located near or close to a highway, which property is damaged as the result of an accident, should also be encompassed by the statute.  Accordingly, we are of the opinion that the word "adjacent" as used in RCW 46.52.010 should be given a broad meaning and be defined as "near to" or "close to" rather than "adjoining" or "abutting."  Consequently we answer your first question as follows:  If the damaged property lies near or close to a public highway the driver of the vehicle would be required to adhere  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] to the duty imposed by the statute, regardless of the fact that the accident itself occurred within the confines of a private parking lot. Whether or not such is the case must, of course, depend upon the facts of each particular case.


            The remaining question for determination is what kinds of property are within the protection of the statute.  Our court, inLee & Eastes v. Public Ser. Comm., 52 Wn.2d 701, 328 P.2d 700 (1958), has defined "property" as follows:

            "'Property . . . is a term of broad significance, embracing everything that has exchangeable value, and every interest or estate which the law regards of sufficient value for judicial recognition.'  York v. Stone (1934), 178 Wash. 280, 34 P.2d 911; Washington Fruit & Produce Co. v. Yakima (1940), 3 Wn.2d 152, 100 P.2d 8, 128 A.L.R. 159. . . ."  (p. 704.)

            InEchols v. State, 51 So.2d 260 (1951), a motor vehicle statute imposed a duty upon the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in "damage to property."  The word "property" was defined as follows:

            ". . . The term 'property' as used in the code section must be construed to apply to that which is the subject of property, and in this sense it includes everything corporeal and incorporeal which is the subject of ownership."  (pp. 261, 262.)

            In applying the statutory provision here in question, bearing in mind its purpose as heretofore referred to, we believe that the term property should be given a broad meaning.  Consequently, we are of the opinion that the word "property" as used in the statute encompasses "everything that has exchangeable value, and every interest or estate which the law regards of sufficient value for judicial recognition."

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

M. H. HEMMEN
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Section 10-105, Uniform Vehicle Code (1956), provides as follows:

            "The driver of any vehicle which collides with any vehicle which is unattended shall immediately stop and shall then and there either locate and notify the operator or owner of such vehicle of the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle striking the unattended vehicle or shall leave in a conspicuous placer in the vehicle struck a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle doing the striking and a statement of the circumstances thereof."

            Section 10-106, Uniform Vehicle Code (1956), provides:

            "The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to fixtures or other property legally upon or adjacent to a highway shall take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of such property of such fact and of his name and address and of the registration number of the vehicle he is driving and shall upon request and if available exhibit his operator's or chauffeur's license and shall make report of such accident when and as required in section 10-108 hereof."

            In this regard it should be noted that a 1962 revision of the Uniform Vehicle Code combined § 10-105 and § 10-106 and eliminated the language here in question.  Section 10-105 now provides as follows:

            "The driver of any vehicle which collides with or is involved in an accidentwith any vehicle or other property which is unattended resulting in any damage to such other vehicle or property shall immediately stop and shall then and there locate and notify the operator or owner of such vehicle or other property of the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle striking the unattended vehicle or other property or, in the event an unattended vehicle is struck, shall attach securely in a conspicuous place in or on such vehicle a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle doing the striking."

2/See, Donigan and Fisher, Know the Law, (1958), pp. 118-124; Fisher, Vehicle Traffic Law, (1961), pp. 319, 329, for general commentary regarding § 10-105 and § 10-106 of the Uniform Vehicle Code

3/The restriction of the statutory duty here in question to instances where the property damaged is fixed or placed upon, or adjacent to, a public highway has been criticized.  Donigan and Fisher, supra, Note 2, at p. 123; and, as noted,supra, footnote 1, this qualification has been eliminated from the Uniform Vehicle Code.

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