Disclosing Wisconsin Accident Reports: Court Rule Requirements

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently ruled that federal law that protects driver’s license information does not permit Wisconsin police departments to withhold information from accident reports. In 1994, Congress enacted the Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) after a stalker obtained the home address of a Hollywood actress from motor vehicle records and murdered her. The DPPA provides for statutory damages of $2,500 per violation.

After an Illinois lawsuit concerning a parking ticket containing driver information that a city police officer left on a driver’s car, police in Wisconsin began redacting driver information from all traffic accident reports, no matter how minor. Statewide, many Wisconsin police departments took this action, despite the fact that the former Wisconsin Attorney General stated that the redactions were not required under the DPPA and police departments in Illinois and Indiana did not follow suit.

In 2013, the New Richmond News sued the City of New Richmond over the redaction of accident reports. The trial court ruled in favor of the newspaper, finding that the DPPA was never meant to overrule Wisconsin’s public records law. The court also ruled that complying with the state law was a police function that constituted an exception to the DPPA. The city appealed, and the Court of Appeals passed the case on to the Wisconsin Supreme Court due its public significance. The death of a state supreme court justice resulted in a 3-3 tie, so the case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, finding that the DPPA does not require police departments to withhold driver information from accident reports. However, the Court left the possibility open that police departments may have to redact driver information, depending on the function the department is serving by releasing the records and the source of the driver information.

When an accident occurs as a result of the driver’s negligence, and causes injury to a passenger, driver of another vehicle, or even a pedestrian, the injured individual may have a claim for damages under Wisconsin law. Accident reports are typically an essential piece of evidence in these types of cases, and one that must be both preserved and disclosed at all costs. However, there are laws that limit the time periods in which you can file personal injury claims in the state of Wisconsin, and you can lose your right to compensation if you do not consult an experienced lawyer in time. Don’t delay in contacting the Madison personal injury attorneys of Boller & Vaughan, and set up your free consultation today.