California Vehicle Code Section 20002(b) VC addresses the criminal liability for causing property damage due to a runaway vehicle.
This law explicitly targets instances where a driver parks their car; the car subsequently becomes a runaway vehicle, damaging another person's property, and the driver fails to act appropriately.
Simply put, an unattended automobile that becomes a runaway vehicle could cause serious property damage. Therefore, this statute makes it a crime for a vehicle to become a runaway and cause property damage when someone does not comply with specific notification and reporting requirements.
To prove someone guilty of violating Vehicle Code 20002(b) VC, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant parked a vehicle, it became a runaway vehicle, and it was involved in an accident resulting in damage to property attended or unattended.
Finally, it must also be proven that the defendant willfully failed to immediately provide the owner or someone in control of the damaged property with their contact information or of the vehicle's owner if another party owns it.
VC 20002(b) says, “(b) Any person who parks a vehicle which, prior to the vehicle again being driven, becomes a runaway vehicle and is involved in an accident resulting in damage to any property, attended or unattended, shall comply with the requirements of this section relating to notification and reporting and shall, upon conviction thereof, be liable to the penalties of this section for failure to comply with the requirements.”
You could face up to 6 months in county jail if convicted of this crime. Let's review this state law in more detail below.
What Does the Law Say?
VC 20002 lists the proper procedures for what a driver must do if their vehicle causes property damage, including to another vehicle, whether in an accident while driving or as a runaway vehicle after parking. If you find yourself in this situation, the law says you must do one of two things:
- Locate the property/vehicle owner and personally present them with your driver's license and vehicle registration information; or
- If the owner is not present, leave a note in a conspicuous place with your contact information and explain what happened. PLUS, notify local law enforcement about the accident as soon as possible.
If your vehicle becomes a runaway vehicle causing damage and fails to do either, you can be charged with a crime.
What Are the Elements of the Offense?
To convict someone under VC 20002(b), the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant parked their vehicle;
- The vehicle became runaway due to the defendant's failure to set the brakes or use other precautions;
- The runaway vehicle subsequently caused property damage;
- The defendant willfully failed to stop and fulfill the requirements under VC 20002 immediately.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Tim parks his car on a sloped street to visit his friend. As a precaution, he sets the parking brake but forgets to turn his wheels outward. The brake gives out, and the car rolls downhill, colliding with another vehicle about 20 feet away and damaging the fender.
The other vehicle's owner is not around, so Tim gets into his car and drives away. Tim can be charged with a crime under VC 20002(b) for failing to leave the requisite note for the other vehicle's owner.
EXAMPLE 2: John is on his way home from work and stops at the entrance to his apartment complex to get his mail from the box. He exits his car but accidentally leaves the car in neutral.
While he's checking his mail, the car rolls into a gazebo nearby, damaging the pillar. Instead of going to the management office to report the damage, John quietly gets into his car and drives away. As a result, John can be charged under VC 20002(b).
EXAMPLE 3: Amy parks her car to enter the grocery store but doesn't realize the car was left in neutral. The car rolls back and rests against a curb without contacting any other vehicle or property. Amy is not guilty under VC 20002(b) because although her car became a runaway vehicle, it did not cause damage.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several California crimes are related to Vehicle Code 20002(b) VC runaway vehicle causing property damage, including the following:
- Vehicle Code 20002 VC – misdemeanor hit and run;
- Vehicle Code 20001 VC – felony hit and run;
- Vehicle Code 21712 VC – unlawful riding in a vehicle;
- Vehicle Code 21464 VC – defacing a traffic control device;
- Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC – driving under the influence.
What Are the Penalties for VC 20002(b)?
If your runaway vehicle causes damage and you fail to provide the required information, it's a misdemeanor offense under California law.
If convicted, you could face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1000. However, the judge has the latitude to consider mitigating factors and impose summary probation instead of jail time.
What Are the Defenses for VC 20002(b)?
There are several defenses that an experienced California criminal defense attorney can raise on behalf of a defendant charged under Vehicle Code Section 20002(b) VC, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge. Violating VC 20002(b) requires a willful disregard of the notification requirements.
If you were unaware that your vehicle moved or caused property damage, for example, if it rolled only a couple of feet into the car behind it, you would not have reasonably known to leave a note or talk to the owner. Demonstrating this may cause the charge to be dismissed.
Perhaps we can argue that there was no property damage. Simply having a runaway vehicle is not a crime in California; it must cause damage, and you must fail to give proper notification. If you can show that your car didn't cause damage to other vehicles or property, you can't be convicted of this crime.
Perhaps we can argue that you fulfilled the requirements. The charge may be dismissed if you prove that you fulfilled the notification requirements. Maybe we can say that you are the victim of mistaken identity. Your attorney may demonstrate that you were not responsible for the runaway vehicle.
You can contact our law firm to review the case details by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.