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Is a Driver Liable if a Car Crash Occurs on an Icy Road?

If a driver collides with your vehicle on a slick road, they may argue that they are not liable for your injuries because the dangerous road conditions made the crash impossible to avoid.

Winter weather conditions can sometimes make for a scary driving experience. Snow, ice, or slush might create slippery road surfaces, which can cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle and crash.

Icy roads can also complicate motor vehicle accident claims. If a driver collides with your vehicle on a slick road, they may argue that they are not liable for your injuries because the dangerous road conditions made the crash impossible to avoid. The condition of the road can also be a factor in determining whether a driver was at fault in an accident, and hence, whether insurance will pay for all damages caused in a crash.

The attorneys at Anderson Trial Lawyers are skilled in handling motor vehicle accident claims of all kinds, including motor vehicle accidents that occur in winter weather. Here are a few factors that commonly come up in these types of claims.

Negligent driver behavior

When you get behind the wheel, you owe a duty of care to drive responsibly — not only for your own safety but for the safety of everyone else on the road. When hazardous conditions are present, this means you must reduce your speed and otherwise use extra caution to reduce the chances of an accident.

For this reason, motor vehicle accident claims primarily focus on the behavior of each driver rather than the road conditions at the time of a crash. Drivers are expected to be aware of any hazards the weather might create — many vehicles even issue a warning that ice might be present when they are started on days with freezing temperatures — and respond accordingly.

If you are involved in an accident with another driver who was not exercising due caution at the time of the crash, they can be held liable for your injuries. Some examples of negligent behavior include:

  • Driving too fast for conditions: During hazardous conditions, drivers are expected to slow down to travel at a safe speed — even if their vehicle is equipped with four-wheel drive, snow tires, or other features to help them navigate winter weather. Drivers who travel too fast for conditions may not be able to safely stop on a slippery road.
  • Following too closely: Drivers must always maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of them so they can stop, if necessary. During slippery conditions, drivers are expected to increase this following distance to account for reduced traction. 
  • Inadequate maintenance: A driver’s duty of care includes keeping their vehicle in safe working condition. Certain maintenance issues, such as tires and brakes, will make it more difficult for a driver to operate their vehicle and avoid a crash in icy conditions.
  • Failing to take other precautions: A driver might be held liable if they do not take other proper precautions in poor weather conditions, such as using their headlights during low visibility conditions and clearing their windshield of snow and ice.

Factors that limit a driver’s liability

In some cases, a court may decide that a crash resulted from the inherent risks of driving in hazardous weather during the winter, not negligence on a driver’s part. Even if a driver is found to be negligent in a crash, certain factors can limit their liability. These include:

  • Unpredictable hazards: If a driver encounters something unusual on a road with little or no warning, they may be able to argue that they did not have adequate time to respond to the hazard. 
  • Reasonable driving behaviors: A driver may be able to show that the accident occurred even though they were taking the necessary precautions, such as reducing their speed.
  • Uncontrollable sliding: Some circumstances, such as a severe ice buildup and sloped roads, can cause vehicles to slide uncontrollably. This can be considered a mitigating factor that reduces a driver’s liability in a crash.

Third-party liability

On public roadways, it is the duty of the state or municipal government to keep the road reasonably clear of snow and ice in order to permit safe travel. They are also responsible for the upkeep of features that can improve road safety and reduce accident severity, such as streetlights and barriers that separate the road from a steep slope. 

Governments typically have immunity protections against certain lawsuits, on the principle that excessive litigation could impede the government’s ability to provide services. However, municipal or state governments can still be held liable if they fail to properly maintain a road. 

For example, you might show that a town’s public works department failed to sand and salt the road despite adequate warning of potential icing, or that they did not respond to icy conditions in a timely manner. You can also argue that inadequate maintenance of safety features contributed to a more severe accident.

If the crash occurred on a private road, you may be able to file a claim against the entity responsible for maintaining the road. Certain other factors will also affect liability for motor vehicle accidents on private roads, such as contractual agreements between a homeowners association and the party responsible for the upkeep of the road.

Let’s review your case

If you or a loved one have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, the skilled attorneys at Anderson Trial Lawyers can help. We’ll review the circumstances of your accident and help you get the settlement or verdict you deserve. Contact us online or call us at 860.886.8845 to set up a free consultation.

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Winter Slip and Fall Accidents Are Common. When Are They Grounds for a Personal Injury Claim?

Even though falls occur frequently in the winter, you’ll still have grounds for a personal injury claim if another person’s negligence contributed to your accident.

Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of taking a tumble during the winter. Snow and ice create more slippery surfaces, making it more likely that you’ll lose your footing. 

Slipping and falling is so common in wintertime that people may consider it a normal part of the season. Yet these incidents can also lead to serious injuries, such as broken bones or traumatic brain injuries, that result in lost wages and expensive medical bills.

Even though falls occur frequently in the winter, you’ll still have grounds for a personal injury claim if another person’s negligence contributed to your accident. However, numerous factors also go into determining liability in a winter slip and fall case, including the property owner’s responsibilities, the injured person’s actions, and the inherent risks of winter weather.

When you have grounds for a personal injury claim

The property owner failed to remove ice and snow

Property owners have a duty of care to keep the premises reasonably safe for visitors. During the winter, that means inspecting areas such as walkways, driveways, and parking lots for snow and ice, and then taking steps to remove it. Although public sidewalks are considered municipal property, local ordinances and statutes typically put the responsibility for snow and ice removal on the abutting property owner. Commercial property owners also have a duty to anticipate inclement weather and prepare accordingly, in addition to maintaining the property after a weather event.

The property owner negligently maintained their property

If a property owner does not maintain their property well, it can lead to hazards such as leaking roofs, improperly draining gutters, or poor drainage. These conditions can cause water to pool and freeze in areas where visitors might walk, increasing the risk of a slip and fall accident. Property owners can also directly create hazards through negligent behavior, such as emptying water onto a nearby sidewalk and allowing it to freeze.

The property owner failed to warn you about the hazard

A property owner can — and should — put up signs or barriers warning people about slippery conditions they know to exist. If the property owner does not take this step, they can be held liable if someone is injured on the property.

When you might not have a claim

The property owner wasn’t negligent

Property owners are not expected to remove every last speck of snow and ice from their property, only to make a reasonable effort to address the hazard. A court may determine that the property owner did their due diligence but that inherently dangerous conditions still remained.

Similarly, property owners are not expected to clear snow and ice as soon as it appears; rather they must address the hazard within a reasonable amount of time. If you slipped and fell while walking during a winter storm, for example, a property owner can’t be held liable because they aren’t expected to clear their property until after this weather has subsided (this is known as the “ongoing storm doctrine”).

Property owners can also sometimes limit, or even eliminate, their liability if they demonstrate that they quickly addressed a hazard once it was reported to them.

You share the blame for your injury

Comparative negligence is an affirmative defense that typically acknowledges that the defendant bears some responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries, but also argues that the plaintiff is partially to blame due to their own negligent actions. For example, the defendant in a winter slip and fall case might argue that the plaintiff was wearing improper footwear or failed to see the hazard because they were distracted at the time.

If the court determines that you were primarily responsible for your injury (at least 51 percent to blame), you won’t be able to recover damages. If the defendant was primarily to blame, you’ll still be able to file a claim but comparative negligence will reduce the damages you’ll be able to recover.

You slipped and fell on public property

Government entities generally have greater protection against lawsuits. This will limit your ability to file a claim if you slipped and fell at a location such as a government building, public park, or a sidewalk maintained by a municipality.

However, it is still possible to file a claim against a government entity if you follow certain procedures and abide by timelines, and if you can make the case that the government was negligent in its duty of care.

Let’s review your case

If you have been injured in a winter slip and fall accident, the experienced attorneys at Anderson Trial Lawyers can help you with your personal injury claim. Contact us online or call us at 860.886.8845.