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Plaintiff Entitled to Washington State Patrol's Electronic Accident Records

The Superior Court of Washington held that accident records compiled by state police were not protected information pursuant to 23 U.S.C. § 409.

Plaintiff Michael Gendler filed suit alleging the Washington State Patrol denied him accident reports in violation of the Washington Public Records Act. Gendler was injured in a collision on his bicycle and requested police reports related to collisions involving bicycles. Washington State Patrol denied his request claiming that the documents had been scanned into a database and compiled for federal highway safety reporting and were protected from discovery by federal law. The defendant offered to make the information available to him subject to verification that he would not use the records in any litigation for damages. The defendants alleged that the accident reports compiled were a part of highway safety data required by 23 U.S.C. § 152 to obtain federal highway funds, therefore the records were protected by 23 U.S.C.
§ 409.

The Superior Court of Washington held that the police traffic collision reports collected by the Washington State Patrol were unrelated for the purpose of highway safety data pursuant to 23 U.S.C. § 152 and therefore the traffic reports were not protected by 23 U.S.C. § 409. The court held that state statute RCW 42.52.060 required the Washington State Police to collect and compile traffic collision reports. The court further held that long before the records were compiled in a database, the Washington State Police were searching its reports and finding the
records requested by the plaintiff and “the fact that the Washington State Patrol elected not to develop its own software to search its own records now in electronic format does not relieve them from their obligations to provide records upon request, or that the mere placement of public records in an electronic database cannot prevent the public from reviewing them under the public records act.” See: Gendler v. Batiste, Case No. 08-2-01833-1 (Thurston County Superior Court, Wash. Feb. 2, 2009).

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Related legal case

Gendler v. Batiste