Dear John, I have a question for you that I am embarrassed to ask, but here goes. I was out last Friday and, well, became ill. I ended up vomiting on the sidewalk in front of somebody's house. I didn't know what to do, so I just left it there. Did I break any laws?
There is no need to be embarrassed about asking this question. The law is designed to help people as they interact within society. It is most needed when the circumstances are unpleasant, such as this. I realize that many readers will find this topic unsettling, but they will hopefully be able to see the application to other situations.
I think the most obvious violation committed was littering. Local code states in part: It is unlawful for any person to deposit filth ... or other offensive or nauseous material in the public street gutter, alley, sidewalk, parking, creek, stream, or upon any public property of any nature, nor upon any vacant private property. Violating this ordinance is a misdemeanor, which could subject you to a $1,000 fine and/or 90 days in jail.
It is also possible that the property owner will have a trespass claim against you. One who intentionally enters onto the land of another, or causes a tangible object to enter the land of another, is liable for damages caused thereby. Intentional entry may occur when the actor causes something to enter the land of another, even if the consequences are not desired, so long as there is substantial certainty that such entry will occur. You may have a difficult time establishing that the act was not intentional, depending on the situation.
One thing to remember is that accidents happen. Some accidents are more likely to happen when we are acting recklessly or irresponsibly. The important thing about accidents is not acknowledging that they happen. It is dealing with the consequences after they happen. In your case, returning to clean up the area may be a good idea, regardless of the embarrassment.
I hope you are feeling better,
John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at firstname.lastname@example.org.