76 Op. Att'y Gen. 56 (1987)
 
76 OAG 56 57 58 59 60

Wisconsin Attorney General Opinions

Opinion # OAG 14-87,

25 March 1987

Confidential Reports; Snowmobiles;
Snowmobile accident reports filed with the
Department of Natural Resources pursuant
to Section 350.15(3), Stats., are not
confidential documents.

CARROLL D. BESADNY,
Secretary Department of Natural Resources

You inquire as to whether snowmobile accident
reports filed with the Department of Natural
Resources pursuant to Section 350.15(3),
Stats., are confidential documents.

Section 350.15(3) requires every snowmobile
operator involved in an accident which
results in the death of any person to
file an accident report with the Department
of Natural Resources.

Your inquiry concerns the interpretation of
Section 350.15(4) which reads as follows:

350.15(4) REPORTS CONFIDENTIAL.

No report required by this Section to be
filed with the department shall be used
as evidence in any trial, civil or
criminal, arising out of an accident,
except that the department shall furnish
upon demand of any person who has or
claims to have made such a report, or
upon demand of any court, a certificate
showing that a specified accident report
has or has not been made to the
department solely to prove a compliance
or a failure to comply with the
requirement that such a report be made.

Your letter states that the Legislature
intended that accident reports remain
confidential because Section 350.15(4)
provides that the department must
furnish certificates showing that
specified accident reports have or
have not been filed with the department.

You state that if the reports were not
intended to remain confidential,
there would be no need to provide
a certificate of compliance.

A copy of the report could
simply be provided.

I do not agree.

Based upon the reasons set forth herein,
it is my opinion that snowmobile accident
reports filed with the department pursuant
to Section 350.15(3) are not confidential
documents.

First, Section 350.15(4) does not state
that accident reports are to be treated
as confidential documents.

Although the title of Section 350.15(4)
states that the reports are confidential,
Section 990.001(6) provides that the titles
to subchapters, Sections, Subsections,
paragraphs and subdivisions of the
statutes are not part of the statutes.

76 OAG 56 57 58 59 60

A title may be used only to resolve existing
doubts or ambiguities as to statutory
meanings and not to create ambiguity
where none exists.

State v. Dahlk,
111 Wis.2d 287, 294,
330 N.W.2d 611 (Ct.App. 1983);

Wisconsin Valley Imp. Co. v. P.S.C.,
9 Wis.2d 606, 618,
101 N.W.2d 798 (1960).

The language in Section 350.15(4)
is clear and unambiguous.

The statute provides that accident reports
are not to be used as evidence in any trial
and that the department must furnish a
certificate showing that a specified
accident report has or has not
been filed with the department.

The certificate may be used as
evidence in a trial.

It serves the purpose of proving an accident
report has or has not been filed without
the necessity of putting the accident
report into evidence.

The certification procedure set out in
the statute appears to have no bearing
on the issue of confidentiality.

The purpose of statutory interpretation
is to ascertain and give effect to
the Legislature's intent.

Where the meaning of a statute is clear on
its face, the courts will not look outside
the language of the statute to determine
legislative intent.

In Interest of J.V.R.,
127 Wis.2d 192, 199,
378 N.W.2d 266 (1985);

Wis. Elec. Power Co. v. Public Service Comm.,
110 Wis.2d 530, 534, 329 N.W.2d 178(1983).

The rules of construction are used only
to determine the meaning of an
ambiguous statute.

Hemerley v. American Fam. Mut. Ins. Co.,
127 Wis.2d 304, 307,
379 N.W.2d 860 (1985).

Second, Section 350.15(4) contains
essentially the same language as Section
346.73(2) which relates to the filing of
automobile accident reports with the
Department of Transportation.

Section 346.73(2) predates
Section 350.15(4)
and reads as follows:

346.73

ACCIDENT REPORTS NOT TO BE USED IN TRIAL.

346.73(2)

   Notwithstanding Section 346.70(4)(f),
   written accident reports required to
   be filed with the department or with
   a county or municipal authority shall
   not be used as evidence in any judicial
   trial, civil or criminal, arising out of
   an accident, except that such reports
   may be used as evidence in any
   administrative proceeding
   conducted by the department.

   The department shall furnish upon demand of
   any person who has or claims to have made
   such a report, or upon demand of any court, a
   certificate showing that a specified accident
   report has or has not been made to the
   department solely to prove a compliance or a
   failure to comply with the requirement that
   such a report be made to the department.

76 OAG 56 57 58 59 60

Prior to 1972, Section 346.73 also contained
Section 346.73(1) which stated:

346.73 ACCIDENT REPORTS CONFIDENTIAL.

346.73(1)

   All required written accident reports,
   including those required by county and
   municipal authorities and reports
   supplemental thereto, are without
   prejudice to the individual so
   reporting.

   Reports made to the division of motor
   vehicles are for the confidential use of the
   division and for the confidential use of the
   highway commission for highway engineering
   purposes.

   Written reports made to county and municipal
   authorities are for the confidential use of
   such authorities.
 
   Notwithstanding the confidential nature of
   written accident reports, the division of
   motor vehicles or county or municipal
   authority may disclose the identity of a
   person involved in an accident when such
   identity is not otherwise known or when such
   person denies his presence at such accident.

In April 1972, the Legislature repealed
Section 346.73(1) and amended the title to
Section 346.73 to delete all references to
confidentiality.

Chapter 253, Section 4, Laws of 1971.

These modifications reflect the Legislature's
intent that Section 346.73 was not designed
to require broad confidential treatment of
motor vehicle accident reports.

That same Legislature then created Section
350.15 in May 1972, using language virtually
identical to Section 346.73(2). Chapter 277,
Section 41, Laws of 1971.

Thus, it is apparent that the Legislature
intended Section 350.15 to have the same
limited scope as Section 346.73(2).

Third, public policy and public interest
favor the public's right to
inspect public records.

Without an exception based upon a statute,
common law, or an overriding public interest
in nondisclosure, there is a presumption
that the public has the right
to inspect public records.

Section 19.31, Stats.;

Hathaway v. Joint School District No. 1,
116 Wis.2d 388, 392,
342 N.W.2d 682 (1984).

Your letter further states that this
opinion will affect the department's
administration of Section 30.67(4) and
Wis. Admin. Code Section NR 64.10.

These Sections contain language essentially
identical to that found at Section 350.15(4).

In my opinion, based upon the reasons
previously stated herein, accident reports
filed pursuant to these Sections are not
confidential documents.

76 OAG 56 57 58 59 60

In summary, Section 350.15(4) does not
state that accident reports are to be
treated as confidential documents.

The statute is designed to limit the extent
to which the reports can be used as evidence
in legal proceedings and to ensure the
availability of documentary evidence which
can be used to prove compliance or failure
to comply with the requirement that such
a report be made.

DJH:RJM

76 OAG 56 57 58 59 60