DennisBeaverAugust 30, 2014   •  By Dennis Beaver

“My husband is an excellent dentist but like many physicians and dentists, thinks that he’s an expert in just about everything, including law,” she added. “Since I know his limitations, when he told me of what he was about to say, I told him to wait until I called you, because this seemed close to open mouth, insert foot and get in trouble.

There is a housing construction project across the street from a rental house we own partially surrounded by a very attractive low adobe-type block wall. One of the builder’s pick-up trucks was seen by a neighbor backing into the wall, damaging several of the blocks.

That neighbor wrote down the vehicle license number and name on the door — which was the same as the builder — and gave it to my husband. She also told him that the driver did not stop to leave a note or try to contact the tenants. It will cost about $500 to repair the damage with color-matched adobe blocks,” she related.

At this point, the dentist came on the line, and explained what he wanted to do:

This was a hit-and-run

“Dennis, if you are in a property damage only auto accident, isn’t there a requirement of leaving your name and contact information at the least?” he asked, and of course there is.

“Sure, if you hit a parked vehicle, or a structure, the law requires that you stop, and:

  1. If possible, notify the person in charge of the property or the owner, and if unsuccessful;
  2. Leave a note with information on the driver’s identify, and the owner of the vehicle;
  3. Explain what happen, and a way to be contacted.
  4. Notify the Police, Sheriff or Highway Patrol, depending on where the accident occurred.

“Fail to do these things, it is Hit and Run—also known as Leaving the Scene of an Accident — a misdemeanor, potentially 6 months in jail, probation and a fine of $1,000 plus penalties, points against your license in addition to increased insurance rates.

“So, doctor, what did you plan on doing that has so worried your wife?” we asked.

Either fix the wall, pay me or else I’m going to the police

“It has been over a week and no one has contacted us. I was going to call the construction company and tell them that if they did not either repair the wall themselves or pay me, that I would file a police report, try to put their driver in jail, post a photo of the damage and explanation online which might harm their business.

“What’s wrong with that? That seems reasonable to me! These guys just are not responsible and deserve a real life lesson! The public needs to be warned!” he replied.

“Most everyone would sympathize with your feelings, and doing this would probably force them to accept responsibility out of fear. But we cannot use the criminal law as a collection tool, and if you actually went ahead and said these things, you could be arrested and charged with extortion, also known as blackmail.

“It is perfectly legal to ask them to repair or pay for the damage. It’s also legal to say that you are going to file a police report. But you simply can’t mix the two together or toss in exposing them online.

“The essence of this felony — that’s right, we’re talking felony — is obtaining or attempting to obtain property or money from someone through the wrongful use of force or fear. You can literally have a gun to your head, forced to hand over money, or something just as effective — the Internet.

“Let’s use your own dental practice as an example. Suppose you had a very angry patient who felt that you did lousy work and wants a refund. She sends a letter which threatens to report you to the Dental Board and make internet postings, telling the world how poor a dentist you are unless you immediately give her a complete refund.

“How would you react?”

“Naturally I would be worried, especially if I had done nothing wrong, and might actually pay her, as a business decision, to avoid embarrassment and possibly losing patients.”

“That’s my point; you would hand her a check out of fear — publicly exposed as a poor dentist, having to deal with the Dental Board, and you did nothing wrong!”

(I hope the dentist didn’t feel that he was given the brush off.)

Even lawyers have gotten themselves in trouble

For some morally satisfying reading on extortion, just Google: Michael Flatley versus attorney Dean Mauro. This will leave you wondering if some lawyers got their license to practice law out of a box of Cracker Jacks.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.