Changes to Requirements for Media Requests for Vehicle Accident Reports Effective June 29, 2017
Every law enforcement agency faces the task of investigating vehicle accidents and managing the statutory requirements for reporting. KRS 189.635 governs the reporting and release requirements for vehicle accident reports. While expressly exempting vehicle accident reports from production under the Kentucky Open Records Act, the statute contains a carve out mandating that the reports be provided to news-gathering organizations for publishing news. However, it did not define news-gathering organization, causing a multitude of problems for government agencies. Over the past several decades law enforcement agencies have struggled to stop people masquerading as legitimate news-gathering organizations who sell vehicle accident report information to unscrupulous chiropractors and personal injury attorneys. (please note the emphasis on unscrupulous as not all chiropractors or attorneys purchased these services). Neither the Kentucky Office of Attorney General nor the Kentucky Courts have been willing to create criteria defining a news-gathering organization. With the passage of HB 215 by the 2017 General Assembly, cities now have statutory criteria that defines a news-gathering organization.
Effective June 29, 2017, the new legislation amends KRS 189.635 (8) to include subsections a-e. The amendments require the Kentucky State Police to establish a form that news-gathering organizations are required to use in requesting vehicle accident reports. In signing and submitting the report, the news-gathering organization is verifying that they meet the statutory requirements to receive the reports. The requirements of KRS 189.635 (8) are summarized as follows:
- Published at least fifty (50) of fifty-two (52) weeks during a calendar year;
- Contains at least twenty-five percent (25%) news content in each issue or no more than seventy-five percent (75%) advertising content in any issue in the calendar year;
- Contains news of general interest to its readers that can include stories, editorials, sports, weddings, births, and death notices;
- Is not intended primarily for members of a particular profession or occupational group; and
- Is not for the primary purpose of distributing advertising or of publishing names and other personal identifying information concerning parties to motor vehicle accidents which may be used to solicit for services covered under Subtitle 39 of KRS Chapter 304.
While requiring someone to fill out a form stating that the entity meets the statutory definition of a news-gathering organization may not seem like much, it really is. Falsely affirming that the entity is a news-gathering organization on the required form meets the elements of a Class D felony. KRS 516.030 (1)(b) includes falsifying “[a] public record or an instrument filed or required or authorized by law to be filed in or with a public office or public employee…” as forgery in the second degree. So, if a city releases the vehicle accident report and later discovers that the entity is in fact a predatory online service that is distributing names and contact information to interested professional parties, the person who signed the form can be investigated and prosecuted. The Kentucky State Police has not yet made the mandatory form public. KRS 189.635(8)(e) requires that media requests be submitted on this form. Until this form is available, cities should consult with their city attorneys to ensure that any media requests meet the standards in the new statute.
The new legislation did not amend KRS 189.635 (7), which allows all releasing agencies to charge a fee for producing vehicle accident reports. Cities may still charge $5 for paper copies of vehicle accident reports.
HB 215 of the Kentucky General Assembly is a significant public safety tool. Cities can now take a more active role in ensuring that the information on these reports remain as confidential as possible. It is a careful balance of recognizing the media’s right to publish legitimate news and protecting our citizens, when they are at their most vulnerable, from predatory practitioners.