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After a car collision the law (in the UK at least) requires the drivers to give their name and address to each other.

Does this apply to car accidents on private property, such as carparks?

Are there other occasions when a person is required to identify themself to someone who might want to take civil action against them? eg: if you bump in to someone on foot and cause them to drop their shopping.

What if the other party is not present in order to ask for identification, but it is obvious that they would want to know who damaged their property?

What about if the damage was reckless to the point of criminal liability?

Is it ever illegal to refuse to identify yourself to someone in order to avoid civil action?

Answers for any jurisdiction are welcome.

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  • 1
    Most people in car parks 'refuse to identify themselves' by the simple expedient of just bug… erm…driving off. For 20 years I had a job that entailed parking in a constant cycle of retail parks. I drove a 'sacrificial' old Merc estate so I didn't have to care. Every single panel was dented; even once the bumper ripped off. How many people 'identified themselves'? I'll let you guess.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 6, 2023 at 12:28
  • no idea about UK, but in Germany if you hit someone with a bike, you have to give name, address and contact information to the hit person Oct 6, 2023 at 12:28

2 Answers 2

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The requirement for the driver to "give his name and address and also the name and address of the owner and the identification marks of the vehicle" used to not apply to car parks, but now it does.

This duty is found in section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The text originally referred to accidents which were

owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road

but has been amended to those which are

owing to the presence of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place.

The insertion of "or other public place" was effected by the Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) Regulations 2000, motivated in part by a court decision that a car park was not a road within the meaning of the Act. That case, Clarke v Kato and others [1998] UKHL 36, was about the requirement to have insurance rather than to exchange information about it, but it turns on the same interpretation of "road". Lord Clyde's judgment declined to interpret "road" as including a car park, considering that even though you can drive a car through parts of a car park, it is overall different enough from an ordinary road that it would be inappropriate for a court to extend the statute. It would also not be coherent with the overall use of the term "road" in legislation.

As the presence of this statutory rule suggests, there is otherwise no general requirement for somebody who causes damage or injury to identify themselves. However, their overall conduct could be relevant to the course of action of any subsequent litigation. Giving false details could also give rise to an action for deceit, if for example the other party spends time and money pursuing the wrong person, but that is different from refusing to give them at all.

Another example of an authorizing statute (though a bit arcane!) is section 31 of the Game Act 1831, which gives landowners and gamekeepers the power to ask for the "Christian name, surname, and place of abode" of anyone found on the land "in search or pursuit of game". This would be redundant if there were already a legal duty to identify oneself when accused of trespass to land - a different tort but the same idea.

In the criminal context, Rice v Connolly [1966] 2 QB 414 is a classic case establishing that although people may have a general ethical obligation to help the police, they have no legal duty to give their name or other details - unless there is some specific law requiring it. This was recently applied in Neale v DPP [2021] EWHC 658 (Admin), a case about coronavirus restrictions. Neale's conviction for "wilfully obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty", owing to his refusal to give his details when an officer tried to issue him a Fixed Penalty Notice, was quashed. "Wilful obstruction" requires that the conduct be intentional, and done without lawful excuse (Rice), but Neale did have a lawful excuse, namely the right to remain silent. Although the exact interaction of the right against criminal self-incrimination with civil law is complex, the point here is consistent with the general idea that people do not have to give their names when somebody else thinks they have done wrong.

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  • What if I bump into a wall somewhere in an agricultural area in the countryside? I don't know the owner. Do I leave a piece of paper on the wall, on the off chance the owner finds it there? I might not even be sure if I caused a damage, in particular not if it happened at night.
    – gerrit
    Oct 6, 2023 at 14:20
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    If you drive your car into a wall in the countryside and there is nobody around, then you are supposed to report it to the police as soon as you reasonably can within the next 24h (RTA 1988 s.170(3) and (6)).
    – alexg
    Oct 6, 2023 at 15:15
  • @alexg: I vaguely remember the same applies if you hit a dog, but not a cat right? (BTW good answer thanks)
    – Tom V
    Oct 7, 2023 at 18:01
  • Weirdly, yes. The rule about giving details kicks in if damage is caused to an animal (other than one in the vehicle) but that is limited to: "horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog".
    – alexg
    Oct 7, 2023 at 20:08
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In the United States, the obligation of a potential tortfeasor to disclose their identity is sometimes limited to motor vehicle accidents, and sometimes only to serious motor vehicle accidents (the seriousness of the accident also sometimes impacts the seriousness of the crime). This is a matter of state law, so the specifics vary from state to state.

This is still very important, since this is the most common kind of personal injury case. And, the second most common kind of personal injury case, a slip and fall premises liability lawsuit against the owner of property that is not maintained property is one in which it is easy to identify the responsible party because real property ownership is a matter of public record.

Usually, it isn't very hard to identify the manufacturer of a defective product, although there are important cases where lots of different companies make indistinguishable products and it can be challenging.

Still, in any of the myriad other kinds of cases where someone can have liability for an accident there is usually no affirmative duty to identify yourself to the person who was harmed that is comparable to the criminal hit and run liability that applies in car accidents.

This is one reason that other kinds of personal injury lawsuits are much less common.

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  • I don't see any $1000 minimum in hit-and-run laws I checked. CA, MI, NY.
    – user71659
    Oct 5, 2023 at 21:01
  • @user71659 I have edited my answer to be less specific.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 5, 2023 at 21:27

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