John Maher talks with Rob Mazow and Robert Hartigan from the personal injury law firm Mazow McCullough about winter driving accidents. They look at the importance of driving for road conditions and not just following the stated speed limit. Then, they assess liability and responsibility for winter driving accidents and explain what to do if you have been involved in a winter driving accident.
John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Rob Mazow and Robert Hartigan of the law firm Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. And today we’re talking about winter driving accidents. Rob and Robert, welcome.
Rob Mazow: Thanks, John.
Robert Hartigan: Hey, John.
How Winter Road Conditions Cause Accidents
John: What conditions in the winter might play a role in causing car accidents?
Robert: You could have a number of issues. You could have snow, ice, sleet. If there’s a snowstorm and it’s blinding snow, the driver’s having an issue trying to navigate the roads. There’s a number of things that could come into play as far as the weather in a car accident.
John: Right. I know that sometimes you’re driving down the road and there’s signs to watch out for ice, especially if you’re going over a bridge where the bridge tends to get wet and freeze up in the winter. Even if the rest of the road seems like it’s fine, the bridge might be icy and you have to watch out for things like that.
Robert: Right. The biggest thing is really making sure that you’re driving at a safe speed. Safe speed meaning if it’s really bad conditions out, you want to be driving under the speed limit, because you want to be able to have enough time to stop in case you slide or lose control of your vehicle so you don’t cause an accident, get into a situation where you end up driving off the roadway and injuring yourself.
Can Driving the Speed Limit be Negligent in Winter?
John: Can you actually be held responsible for an accident if you were driving the speed limit, but in those conditions, really you should have been going slower? What are the rules there?
Rob: Yeah, yes. Even if there’s a speed limit, you have to monitor yourself in accordance with the conditions of the road. If it’s a blizzard and it’s blinding, and you’re still going 55 miles an hour and you hit somebody or you hit another vehicle, or even if a police officer wanted to stop you and cite you for that, I believe that they could, because you just have to temper yourself to drive within reason for the conditions.
Sometimes we see this in car accidents and bad winter driving. A person’s going to say, “Yeah, I know I caused the accident, but I was sliding. I couldn’t help myself.” Well, if you were going at a reasonable speed, then perhaps you could have. But if we can show that what you were doing was driving unreasonably under the conditions, then whether or not it was winter or not is not the point. The point is that you weren’t tempering the way you were driving to the conditions.
Can Drivers Be Responsible When Winter Conditions Cause the Accident?
John: So what happens if I’m involved in a car accident, but it wasn’t some other driver who was at fault? It was just an accident that was caused by these icy or snowy conditions. For example, could I be held at fault for the accident, even though it was really caused by the ice and snow?
Rob: Let me give you a real life example that happened to my daughter. She was a relatively new driver, and she was in her neighborhood and her car hit ice, and she slid out and caused property damage to the vehicle that she was in.
Now, she didn’t get into trouble legally. There was no police issue or anything like that, but the insurance company of the car that she was in absolutely found her to be at fault for that, because there was nobody else that they could turn to to find fault. So in that instance, while they paid for her property damage, they withheld the $500 deductible because they found her to be at fault for that accident. So the answer is yes, you can still be found at fault if there’s nobody else responsible other than the weather conditions.
John: Like you said before, they could say, “Well, you should have been driving slower. You should have been more careful,” that kind of thing.
Rob: And that’s what they will say. Now, to be continued, that case is under appeal, where we’re appealing the decision to the insurance company. We’re going to say exactly what you’re thinking, that if she was driving reasonably under the conditions and there was nothing she could do about it, well then, she shouldn’t be found at fault. I’m not sure how that’s going to turn out, but that’s certainly what we’re going to argue.
Compensation for Injuries in Accidents Caused by Road Conditions
John: Right. Can I get compensated for injuries that I sustained in an accident that’s due to the road conditions? Like if I crash into a tree or a telephone pole like you’re talking about, and nobody except me was hurt and my car was damaged.
Rob: The only thing you’d be entitled to in that instance is what’s called personal injury protection benefits, or PIP benefits. If you are in the car, and the conditions of the roadway were such that it was icy and caused you to slide into a tree and you got hurt, then the insurance company of the car that you’re in will pay up to $8,000 of personal injury protection regardless of who is at fault, even if it was your own fault. So yes, you can get compensated. You can’t get compensated for additional compensation, like pain and suffering damages and things like that, but you can get reimbursed for actual medical bills from medical treatment.
Government Liability for Poor Road Conditions
John: Okay. Robert, can a town or a city or state be held responsible for maybe not maintaining the roads properly? With snow or ice on the roads, they’re not out there plowing. They’re not putting down salt and sand, and that really kind of contributed to my accident. Could a town or city be held responsible?
Robert: I think that’s a tough avenue to pursue a claim against the town for not plowing or sanding the roadways if you lose control of your car or you get into an accident. And even if you were to make that claim, there are caps against cities and towns in the state when you’re trying to go after them. Again, it all comes down to how reasonable you’re operating your vehicle. So if you’re going the speed limit in a blizzard and you say, “Well, the roads weren’t sanded or they didn’t plow,” then, again, that’s on you for not driving at a reasonable speed.
John: Right. You have to know that if it’s still snowing out or it just finished snowing, there’s going to be snow on the roads and it’s going to be unsafe to drive, and that’s not really the town’s fault, that you have to give them time to get out there with the sand trucks and the plows and get that snow removed. So that wouldn’t be their fault because you decided to go out while it’s still snowing, that kind of thing.
Contact Us for Legal Help After a Winter Accident
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information. Rob and Robert, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Rob: Thanks, John.
Robert: Thank you, John.
John: And for more information, you can visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call (855) 693-9084.