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McIntosh v. Watkins

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

February 26, 2019

LEE MCINTOSH, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
JAKE WATKINS, Defendant/Appellee.

          ON APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY, STATE OF OKLAHOMA; HONORABLE JOHN G. CANAVAN, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Anthony F. Gorospe, Gorospe Law Group, PLLC, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff/Appellant.

          Brad L. Roberson and Lauren N. Watson, Pignato, Cooper, Kolker & Roberson, P.C., Oklahoma City, OK, for Defendant/Appellee

          COMBS, J.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶0 Appellant, Lee McIntosh, was involved in a hit-and-run accident caused by the appellee, Jake Watkins. Appellant sought treble damages against the appellee based upon the damage to his vehicle. The district court held 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103 did not allow treble damages because the appellant also sustained injuries and granted summary judgment in favor of the appellee. We hold the treble damage provision in 47 O.S. 2011, §10-103 applies even if a victim sustains an injury.

         ¶1 On October 29, 2017, the defendant/appellee, Jake Watkins, was driving under the influence of alcohol and rear-ended a vehicle owned and operated by the plaintiff/appellant, Lee McIntosh. Mr. McIntosh's vehicle was damaged and he and the former co-plaintiff, Anthony McIntosh, were injured. [1] Both vehicles pulled over to the shoulder of the road and the parties exited their vehicles to discuss the accident and to inspect the damage. At some point Mr. McIntosh stated he needed to call the police to report the accident. When Mr. Watkins heard this he returned to his vehicle and fled the scene without providing Mr. McIntosh the information required under 47 O.S. 2011, §10-104 (name, address, vehicle registration number and, upon request, show a driver license and security verification form). Mr. Watkins was later arrested and charged with two counts: 1) driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol; and 2) leaving the scene of an accident involving damage in violation of 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103. He pled no contest to the two counts and received a deferred judgment and sentence on March 9, 2018, in Case No. CM-2017-902, Pottawatomie County, State of Oklahoma.

         ¶2 On June 15, 2018, Mr. McIntosh signed a settlement agreement which settled all of his bodily injury claims for the sum of $25, 000.00. Mr. McIntosh was also paid $17, 545.66 to fully repair his vehicle and an additional $7, 000.00 for the diminution of value claim. The only remaining issue left to be decided by the trial court was whether Mr. McIntosh was entitled to receive treble damages for the damage sustained to his vehicle. Mr. Watkins filed a motion for partial summary judgment which was later converted to a motion for summary judgment considering there was only one remaining issue to be decided. On August 16, 2018, a hearing was held and the trial court ruled Mr. McIntosh was not entitled to treble damages pursuant to 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103, due to the fact he had incurred not only property damage to his vehicle but he also sustained a nonfatal injury. Mr. McIntosh appeals the trial court's ruling on this final issue.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶3 The standard for appellate review of a summary judgment is de novo and an appellate court makes an independent and nondeferential review. Nelson v. Enid Med. Assocs., Inc., 2016 OK 69, ¶7, 376 P.3d 212; Carmichael v. Beller, 1996 OK 48, ¶2, 914 P.2d 1051. That review requires examination of the pleadings and evidentiary materials submitted by the parties to determine whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact. Carmichael, 1996 OK 48, ¶2. When genuine issues of material fact exist, summary judgment should be denied and the question becomes one for determination by the trier of fact. Brown v. Okla. State Bank & Trust Co., 1993 OK 117, ¶7, 860 P.2d 230.

         ¶4 Legal questions involving the district court's statutory interpretation of law are also subject to de novo review. Fulsom v. Fulsom, 2003 OK 96, ¶2, 81 P.3d 652. The primary goal of statutory construction is to ascertain and to apply the intent of the Legislature that enacted the statute. Samman v. Multiple Injury Trust Fund, 2001 OK 71, ¶13, 33 P.3d 302. If the legislative intent cannot be ascertained from the language of a statute, as in the cases of ambiguity, we must apply rules of statutory construction. YDF, Inc. v. Schlumar, Inc., 2006 OK 32, ¶6, 136 P.3d 656. The test for ambiguity in a statute is whether the statutory language is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation. In Matter of J. L. M., 2005 OK 15, ¶5, 109 P.3d 336. Where a statute is ambiguous or its meaning uncertain it is to be given a reasonable construction, one that will avoid absurd consequences if this can be done without violating legislative intent. Wylie v. Chesser, 2007 OK 81, ¶19, 173 P.3d 64. In ascertaining legislative intent, the language of an entire act should be construed with a reasonable and sensible construction. Udall v. Udall, 1980 OK 99, ¶11, 613 P.3d 742. Statutory construction that would lead to an absurdity must be avoided and a rational construction should be given to a statute if the language fairly permits. Ledbetter v. Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Comm'n., 1988 OK 117, ¶7, 764 P.2d 172. The legislative intent will be ascertained from the whole act in light of its general purpose and objective considering relevant provisions together to give full force and effect to each. Keating v. Edmondson, 2001 OK 110, ¶8, 37 P.3d 882. Any doubt as to the purpose or intent of a statute may be resolved by resort to other statutes relating to the same subject matter. Naylor v. Petuskey, 1992 OK 88, ¶4, 834 P.2d 439. This Court will not limit consideration to one word or phrase but will consider the various provisions of the relevant legislative scheme to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent and the public policy underlying the intent. YDF, Inc., 2006 OK 32, ¶6. Legislative purpose and intent may also be ascertained from the language in the title to a legislative enactment. Naylor, 1992 OK 88 ¶4; Independent School District No. 89 of Oklahoma County v. Oklahoma City Federation of Teachers, Local 2309 of American Federation of Teachers, 1980 OK 89, ¶17, 612 P.2d 719.

         III. ANALYSIS

         ¶5 The parties do not dispute that Mr. Watkins collided into and damaged Mr. McIntosh's vehicle while it was operated by Mr. McIntosh. The parties do not dispute Mr. Watkins left the scene of the accident prior to fulfilling the requirements of 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-104. In Mr. McIntosh's response to the motion for summary judgment he denied Mr. Watkin's statement of undisputed material facts that Mr. McIntosh had sustained and was treated for bodily injury. However, he limited this denial only as to the relevancy of that fact to the issue presented. Both his petition and amended petition clearly stated the automobile accident caused him bodily injury. There remain no genuine issues of material fact in dispute that would prohibit summary judgment. The issue before this Court is purely a question of law concerning what damages a plaintiff is entitled to receive when he or she is involved in a hit-and-run accident involving both property damage and bodily injury.

         ¶6 Mr. McIntosh seeks treble property damage. Mr. Watkins was charged and pled no contest to violating 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103 in the criminal matter regarding the subject accident. Under this statute, a person who leaves the scene of an accident where an attended vehicle is damaged and without providing requisite information shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and can also be liable in a civil action for treble damages caused by the accident. Title 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103 provides:

The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such accident or as close thereto as possible but shall forthwith return to and in every event shall remain at the scene of such accident until he has fulfilled the requirements of Section 47-10-104 of this title. Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary. Any person failing to stop or comply with said requirements under such circumstances shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not to exceed Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one (1) year, or by both such fine and imprisonment. In addition to the criminal penalties imposed by this section, any person violating the provisions of this section shall be subject to liability for damages in an amount equal to three times the value of the damage caused by the accident. Said damages shall be recoverable in a civil action. Nothing in this section shall prevent a judge from ordering restitution for any damage caused by a driver involved in an accident provided for in this section. (Emphasis added).

         Title 47 O.S. 2011, §10-104 provides in pertinent part:

A. The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle which is driven or attended by any person shall give his correct name, address and registration number of the vehicle he is driving, and shall upon request exhibit his driver license and his security verification form, as defined in Section 7-600 of this title, to the person struck or the driver or occupant of or person attending any vehicle collided with, and shall render to any person injured in such accident reasonable assistance, including the carrying, or the making of arrangements for the carrying, of such person to a physician, surgeon or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that such treatment is necessary or if such carrying is requested by the injured person. Any driver who provides information required by this section which is intentionally inaccurate shall be subject to the provisions of Section 10-103 of this title. (Emphasis added).

         ¶7 Mr. Watkins asserts 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-102 [2] (accidents involving nonfatal injuries) is the only statute applicable to the present case. This section does not provide for treble damages. In fact, the only statute that allows for an award of treble damages is 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103, which Mr. Watkins argues applies when the hit-and-run accident results only in vehicle damage; here there was both vehicle damage and bodily injury and therefore he asserts 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103 is not applicable. He believes the first sentence of 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103 limits the kind of victims of hit-and-run drivers who may recover treble damages to those who only have vehicle damage and no bodily injuries.

         ¶8 Mr. McIntosh argues the word "only" in the first sentence of 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103 creates ambiguity and under his interpretation the legislative intent was to place a limit on the type of treble damages (vehicle damage instead of damage related to a bodily injury) and not a limit on who can recover as long as the victim sustained vehicle damage in a vehicle he or she occupied. He also asserts Mr. Watkins pled no contest to violating 47 O.S. 2011, §10-103 and is currently on misdemeanor probation for that crime. All the elements in the statute have been met for treble damages. Therefore, under the plain language of the statute, Mr. McIntosh argues he is entitled to treble damages based upon the damage to his vehicle.

         ¶9 Title 47 O.S. 2011, §10-103 is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation and is therefore ambiguous and requires this Court to resort to rules of statutory construction to determine its intent. In determining legislative intent, we shall give the statute a reasonable and sensible construction that will avoid absurd consequences if the language fairly permits. Here, the statutory language, its history, and the act as a whole, allows for a reasonable and sensible construction.

         ¶10 In 1949, Senate Bill 3 was enacted and Section 2 of the bill was the precursor to 47 O.S. §§ 10-102, 10-102.1, 10-103, 10-104 and 10-105. 1949 Okla. Sess. Laws, p. 502, § 2. Section 2 of the bill was codified in Section 121.2 of Title 47 of the Oklahoma Statutes. This section provided:

(a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to, or death of, any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such accident, or as close thereto as possible and shall then forthwith return to, and in every event shall remain at the scene of the accident until he has fulfilled the requirements of paragraph (d). Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary.
(b) Any person wilfully, maliciously, or feloniously failing to stop, or to comply with said requirements under such circumstances, shall be guilty of a felony, upon conviction thereof, be punished by imprisonment for not less than ten (10) days nor more than one (1) year, and by a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50.00) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1, 000.00) or by both such fine and imprisonment.
(c) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle, which is driven or attended by any person, shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such accident, or as close thereto as possible, and shall forthwith return to, and in every event shall remain at the scene of such accident, until he has fulfilled the requirements of paragraph (d). Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary.
(d) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident shall give his correct name and address, and the registration number of the vehicle he is driving; and shall exhibit his operator's or chauffeur's license to the person struck, or the driver, or occupant of, or person attending any vehicle collided with and shall render to any person injured in such accident reasonable assistance. If the driver does not have an operator's or chauffeur's license in his possession he shall exhibit other valid evidence of identification to the occupants of a vehicle, or to the person collided with.
(e) 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 correct name and address of the driver and the owner of the vehicle striking the unattended vehicle, or shall leave in a conspicuous place in or on the vehicle struck a written notice giving the correct name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle doing the striking, and shall provide the same information to an officer having jurisdiction.
(f) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in damages to fixtures 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 exhibit his operator's or chauffeurs license, or if said operator's or chauffeur's license is not in his possession at that time, said driver shall exhibit other valid evidence of identification, and shall make report of such accident when and as required by law.
(g) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person shall immediately, by the quickest means of communication, give notice of such accident to the local police department, if such accident occurs within a municipality, or to the office of the county sheriff or the nearest office of the State Highway Patrol, after complying with the requirements of paragraph (d).
Provided the provisions of this Section shall not apply to any person who is himself injured in such accident to the extent that he cannot safely and reasonably comply therewith.
It shall be deemed a misdemeanor and punishable by fine of not more than fifty dollars ($50.00) for the conviction of any person for failure to comply with the requirements of paragraphs (c), (e), (f) or (g).

         The bill's title referred to this section as "establishing the requirements for drivers involved in an accident." Subsections (a) & (b) of § 121.2 provided a driver who causes an accident where there is a nonfatal injury shall stop and provide the information and assistance required in subsection (d) or they shall be guilty of a felony. Subsection (c) & (g) provided a driver who causes an accident where there is "only" vehicle damage shall stop and provide the information required in subsection (d), no assistance is required because there are no injuries, and a person who fails to do so shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. The purpose of § 121.2 was to provide requirements for drivers involved in accidents. It provided different duties based upon the type of accident as well as providing different criminal degrees of guilt for failure to provide information and/or assistance when necessary. The use of the word "only" in subsection (c) clearly limited the criminal charges to a misdemeanor if an accident only involved vehicle damage. At this time, there existed no provision for treble damages like those currently found in 47 O.S. 2011, §10-103.

         ¶11 In 1961, House Bill 556 created the Highway Safety Code for the State of Oklahoma. 1961 Okla. Sess. Laws, p. 315. This bill re-codified many statutes relating to public safety and created 47 O.S. §§ 10-102, 10-102.1, 10-103, 10-104 and 10-105 in a new chapter, "Chapter 10. Accidents And Accident Reports." Title 47 O.S. 1961, § 10-103 provided:

The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such accident or as close thereto as possible but shall forthwith return to and in every event shall remain at the scene of such accident until he has fulfilled the requirements of section 10-104. Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary. Any person failing to stop or comply with said requirements under such circumstances shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

         The bill titled this section "Accidents Involving Damage to Vehicle." The re-codification left the pertinent language, formerly found in subsections (c) and (g) of § 121.2, relatively intact. The focus remained on establishing the duties of a driver who collides with an attended vehicle. It provided such person who fails to perform those duties will be guilty of a misdemeanor where there was only vehicle damage. The apparent purpose of the "accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle" language was to limit the degree of crime to a misdemeanor and to distinguish this crime from the felony crimes for hit-and-run accidents causing a nonfatal injury or death.

         ¶12 Title 47 O.S. 1961, § 10-103 has only been amended once since its enactment. HB 1458 (1987) amended § 10-103 to add a specific punishment provision, to provide the current scheme for treble damages and to authorize a court to order restitution. 1987 Okla. Sess. Laws, c. 224, § 15. The amendment is current law and provided in part, "[i]n addition to the criminal penalties imposed by this section, any person violating the provisions of this section shall be subject to liability for damages in the ...


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