Driving in snow challenges us all. Funny thing is, every year when the first snow files it seems like lots of drivers forget something basic: snow is slippery!
They’re in a hurry. Late for work. Pretending nothing is different on frosty roads and highways. They fly down the road like nothing is happening.
People call and ask me whether they can sue the city or state for not plowing the roads enough?
Or whether the road conditions caused the accident so they’re not at fault.
You don’t really have to stop and look when piles of snow make it hard to see around a corner at an intersection do you?
Here are five reasons the snow didn’t cause the accident:
1. You Can’t Blame the Snow for Your Accident
Insurance companies determine fault by checking into all circumstances at the time and place of an accident. Bad weather and less than ideal road conditions top the list of variables. Your car slides into an intersection. You crash into another vehicle or lose control and slide off the road in icy slippery conditions. You feel that it’s the road’s fault and not the driver’s.
The law and insurance adjusters hold drivers accountable to keep a vehicle under control no matter what road conditions exist. Rules of the road in nearly every state require drivers to operate safely in view of all circumstances. Without question icy roads definitely contribute to an accident. At the same time, rules of the road require that drivers take extra precautions when driving in such conditions.
The bottom line here is that snow, ice and other road conditions make up a condition existing at the time of the accident. They are not the cause of the accident.
2. All Wheel Drive and 4 Wheel Drive Don’t Make Your Vehicle as Invincible as You Think.
Consumer Reports tested top of the line SUVs. They report that All Wheel Drive (AWD) beats 2 wheel drive when serious traction is needed to get a vehicle started. But test drivers found AWD gives little or no help to drivers going too fast or in a sudden curve on snowy roads. Snow tires were found to be of far more help than AWD in making a vehicle safer in snow driving. About over reliance on AWD:
“We’ve all seen them, zipping past us in blizzards with their illusory cloak of invincibility.
Don’t be one of those guys-unless you want to risk a crash or find yourself stranded far from civilization.”
Consumer Reports-Do You Really Need AWD in the Snow?
Another auto industry expert, Edmunds, likewise warns against being “lured by an automaker’s advertising and think that having AWD means you can drive in the snow and rain as easily as you would in dry conditions”. Edmunds cautions that while AWD and 4WD help with acceleration and tracking, braking and handling are no different than with a regular 2 wheel drive.
3. Don’t blame Snowbanks for Blocking Vision if you Cause an Accident
In winter, snow piles up intersections and the ends of driveways. If you’re backing out of the driveway or entering an intersection you have the duty before going into the road to make sure that movement can be done safely.
In one case a court found a person backing out of a driveway “was wholly at fault for the accident.” She chose to enter the public way from her driveway without properly observing and taking account of oncoming traffic. Her vision of the road was blocked by the pile of snow at the end of her driveway. She knew about the obstruction. At the same time, the court held that she had the option of proceeding more cautiously but failed to do so.
4. Many Drivers Ignore Driving in Snow & Ice Advice
Despite winter driving cautions and tips from numerous sources, people continue to drive like lunatics. Just a very quick look online yielded tips from the American Auto Association, the National Safety Council, OSHA, and a blizzard of others. Things like driving more slowly, giving yourself more braking room, not crowding snowplows and avoiding distractions should be common sense. Shouldn’t they?
Here’s one quote we found:
“Drive as if there were eggs on the bottoms of your feet – step on the gas and the brake pedals so gently that you don’t break the eggshell.”
Car Talk. Winter Driving Tips.
Yeah, OK. How many people do that? They should. But lots of drivers look more like they’re holding down the gas pedal with grandma’s cast iron skillet.
5. You Can’t Sue the Government for Bad Job Clearing the Roads
Well actually you can sue. In America you can sue anyone for anything. But your actual chances of winning a case against the city or the state for not plowing the roads to your standards are extremely poor.
Sovereign Immunity was the old common law concept meaning you can’t sue the Government. For anything. That concept slowly eroded away and now you can bring lawsuits against government entities but largely only on their terms. States like New Hampshire have special statutes making it next to impossible to win a case claiming that the highway crews failed to adequately treat or remove snow, ice or other weather related hazards.
In a Connecticut case a pick-up truck driver claimed serious injuries due to untreated black ice on a bridge over the Thames River on Interstate I-95. That case, accusing the state of failing to treat or otherwise remedy the icing condition, bounced around the trial and appellate cases for seven years before dismissal. The final decision held that road crews responded to a call about black ice and got there as quickly as they could.
If you were injured in a car accident during severe weather conditions, and you were not the one who lost control and caused the accident, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney for legal advice. Car Accidents can cause a lot of unwanted stress both physically and financially, especially because you never know when a car accident is going to happen.
Trying to protect your legal rights on your own can be very difficult, especially if you are not versed in the rules and regulations of the legal system.
Even cases that seem cut and dry can be difficult to win. You have to remember the other party’s insurance company is going to try and place fault on you, even if it’s just a little bit to try and make your settlement smaller.
Astbury v. Drew, Superior Court of Maine, CV-2002-144, CV-02-441.
Do You Need an All Wheel Drive or Four Wheel Drive Car?, Ronald Montoya, Edmunds, Oct 17, 2017.
Do You Really Need All Wheel Drive in the Snow?, Consumer Reports Sept. 29, 2015.
Graham v. Commissioner of Transportation, Supreme Court of CT, 11/20/2018 – N.SC 19867.
NH Statute: RSA 231:92-a.
For more on whether you can sue a city or state for failing to remove snow properly click here.