Are you at fault if you have a car accident caused by snow?
If you believe that you can’t be at fault for an accident that occurs when the roads are covered with snow or even during an intense snowstorm, think again. All drivers have the responsibility not only to obey traffic laws, but to alter their driving to accommodate weather and road conditions. If anyone is seriously injured in a snow-related car accident, you will definitely need the services of an experienced car accident attorney to help you collect any damages you may be entitled to and to protect you if you are being sued by another party harmed in the crash.
Because driving regulations and fault/no-fault laws differ from state to state, you will have to contact a well-respected lawyer from your state who is familiar with its particular laws. The car accident attorney you ultimately choose should have a proven track record of success, both in and out of the courtroom.
What the Law Requires of Drivers in the Snow
Wherever you live, even if in a southern state where it rarely snows, you (as a driver) have a duty of care to other drivers and pedestrians no matter the weather. When there is snow falling and/or covering the road surface, the law (depending on the state) will require and/or expect to:
- Drive at slower speeds than usual
- Keep your windshields, windows, outside mirrors, and headlights as clear as possible,
- Maintain more distance from the car in front of them than you normally would
- Not make unnecessary lane changes or weave through traffic
- Not brake suddenly except in an emergency
- Be especially careful to avoid driving while intoxicated or distracted
Truck and bus drivers are cautioned to be particularly aware of driving with care. For one thing, these vehicles require considerably more braking distance. For another, trucks and buses are more likely to cause catastrophic injuries to other drivers and passengers due to their size and weight. It should be noted that if a truck driver or bus driver is found to be responsible for the accident, the company that hired, vetted, and scheduled that individual may also be held accountable.
Determining Fault in Snow-Related Accidents
Whatever state you live in, poor or negligent driving will not be forgiven because snow is falling.
Efforts will be made by the police at the scene and by insurance adjusters to figure out who was at-fault for the collision. In a no-fault state like Michigan, injured victims may receive Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits from PIP for expenses including medical costs and lost income. This is true regardless of fault. Fault will be a factor, however, if the injured person pursues an automobile negligence (also known as “third-party”) claim against the driver considered liable. This may occur if the injury is severe enough that it reaches one of three injury “thresholds.” Damages in a third-party lawsuit are for pain and suffering (i.e., noneconomic damages) and some excess economic damages.
If you are deemed the at-fault driver in a car accident that takes place in the snow, it is imperative that you have a skilled car accident attorney who has handled such cases before. Your attorney’s job will be to defend you and protect your financial interests by proving that you were not at fault, or at least that you were only partially at fault, for the collision.
When More Than One Person Is to Blame for a Snow Accident
Every state uses one of the following principles to determine how damages may be won when some blame for the accident is attributed to each party:
- Pure contributory negligence in which no damages are awarded if the plaintiff is deemed even 1 percent at fault for the accident.
- Pure comparative negligence in which the plaintiff is permitted to win damages even if found to be 99 percent at fault for the accident. However, damages will be limited by the party’s degree of fault.
- Modified comparative negligence in which the plaintiff will be barred from recovering damages where found to be more than 50% at fault.
Only South Dakota uses another principle, known as slight/gross negligence comparative fault. According to this rule, the plaintiff cannot recover damages unless his or her negligence is considered slight and the defendant’s fault is deemed “gross.”
How Fault Is Determined by Insurance Companies and the Courts
Generally, some allowances are made for weather when snow is part of the accident scenario, though the weather never exonerates negligent or reckless drivers. Insurance adjusters and courts take into account the following facts as they evaluate whether you are at fault for a car accident in the snow:
- Road conditions and precipitation at the time of the accident
- Speed of both (or all, in the case of pile-ups) vehicles
- Witness statements
- Photographic evidence
- Testimony of those involved in the crash
- Violations of traffic laws by either party (police may have issued a summons)
- Dangerous driving by either party, especially in regard to the snow
These days, there is advanced technology to determine the speed of the drivers, the angles of impact (by examining the vehicle damage, tire tracks, and skid marks), as well as the blood alcohol or drug levels of the drivers. There may also be video footage of the scene by posted cameras, or private footage taken by passengers or other witnesses. Medical data confirming injuries suffered in the accident may also provide clues to precisely what took place.
Your Car Accident Lawyer Will Always Work in Your Best Interests
A sharp car accident attorney will investigate all of the above for details that will help to prove you were not at fault, or not the only person to blame. She or he will work hard to establish that you were obeying traffic laws and that you were driving cautiously because of the weather.
Your lawyer may also choose to hire an auto accident investigator with scientific engineering and automotive expertise who will be able to validate your version of events. Even if you are found to be at fault in a snow accident, a good attorney committed to your cause can appeal the ruling.
Wayne Miller is a graduate of the University of Michigan (1976) and Wayne State University School of Law (1979). Licensed to practice law in Michigan since 1980, Wayne has specialized in the legal issues relating to the victims of motor vehicle accidents. Wayne and the firm specialize in cases involving catastrophic injury, including the rights of the injured, their families, and their professional service providers. Wayne has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Wayne Law School, where he has taught the class in Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law since 1998. The textbook used in the three Michigan law schools that teach no-fault insurance is co-authored by Wayne. Wayne has been included in the “Best Lawyers in America” since 2005, and was named the “Most Respected Advocate” by the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel in 2007. Wayne has been honored by Michigan Lawyers Weekly as a 2015 “Leader in the Law”.