Are Drivers Liable for Auto Accidents Caused by Snow or Ice?
Many clients have asked this question. While the answer is yes, it takes a bit of explanation.
Rarely is there ever an occasion where the weather is the only cause of an auto accident. Perhaps if a tornado or hurricane picked up a vehicle and threw it against another vehicle, then Mother Nature would be wholly responsible. Most of the time, however, auto accidents in treacherous conditions can be avoided by drivers who exercise due care and caution for the safety of others.
Whether a driver is legally responsible for an auto accident always boils down to this question: Did he or she do or fail to do anything which contributed to causing the accident? If the answer to that question is yes, then the driver is liable. That is regardless of whether the weather conditions may have also contributed to causing the accident. While some argue that God controls the weather, He cannot actually be sued, although some have tried.
When someone is driving in difficult or dangerous weather conditions, it is expected that they will drive according to the conditions they are encountering. This means slowing down if it is too slick or icy outside or if the roads are encased in a dense fog. When people get into an auto accident in such conditions and receive a ticket, the most typical violation they receive is for “driving too fast for conditions“. Drivers are also supposed to “keep a proper lookout”.
I recently read an article in which a former semi-tractor trailer driver gave some tips for driving in bad weather:
- Relax because panic causes you to overreact.
- Slow Down.
- Make your actions controlled and deliberate (avoid hard braking or sharp turns).
- Use your headlights.
- Use your signals and give people adequate warning of lane changes.
- Observe tire spray from the vehicle in front of you. If the road looks wet and there is little spray coming off the vehicle in front of you, the roads are likely very icy.
- If visibility is zero, do not slam on your brakes. Make a slow and controlled stop.
- If the weather gets too treacherous, wait it out and go to a motel, a rest stop, or gas station until conditions improve.
- Make sure you have good tires or replace bald ones.
Drivers who fail to drive with care and caution for the safety of other drivers are liable for auto accidents they cause regardless of whether the weather made the accident more likely to occur. By slowing down and paying more attention to the environment around you, you can avoid accidents whether the weather outside is frightful or delightful. An act of God may have increased the danger. An act of human caution can save lives, including your own.