Liability Issues After a Winter Weather Car Accident
Liability Issues After a Winter Weather Car Accident
In late January 2022, a huge blizzard struck the Boston area, dropping as much as two feet of snow in some areas. Road crews did their best to clear the massive blockages, but there were many crashes and injuries in the days that followed. Many people needed to travel, while others simply believed they could handle the icy conditions with no problem.
When road conditions are this extreme, there can be many liability issues after a winter weather car accident. Should a driver be held responsible if roads aren’t cleared? Who’s to blame when snowbanks are tall enough or located where they hinder visibility? Understanding where the fault lies in these crashes requires the help of a lawyer who specializes in how the law assigns culpability.
Determining Liability When Weather Is a Factor
A smaller snow storm blew through Massachusetts in early January 2022, spawning dozens of accidents from the slippery conditions. Following the advice of authorities to stay home is not always easy. Many people need to travel or risk losing their jobs. Others might need treatment, such as chemotherapy or dialysis, and avoiding travel is out of the question.
Although those who live and work in Massachusetts are accustomed to driving in this kind of weather, many things can happen that are not a driver’s fault:
- Other motorists may drive recklessly or too fast for the conditions.
- Parking lot owners can pile snow irresponsibly, blocking visibility.
- Government vehicles can impede traffic and cause pile-ups.
- Snowplows may ignore the right-of-way and cause a crash.
A reputable lawyer will gather camera footage, photos of the scene, police reports, and other important evidence. They can also hire an independent accident investigator to assess what happened and obtain testimony from experts.
Massachusetts Is a No-Fault Insurance State
In Massachusetts, each person involved in an accident will file a claim with their own insurance company to cover their medical bills and property damage. This is known as “no-fault” and allows insurance claims to be settled more quickly. When injuries are severe enough, however, one party may choose to bring a personal injury lawsuit to recover losses above what their insurance will pay.
Stepping outside the no-fault system can be triggered by these conditions:
- The plaintiff has over $2000 in medical bills, or
- Their injuries have resulted in severe and permanent disfigurement, including broken bones, hearing loss, or vision loss.
The statute of limitations in Massachusetts for filing a personal injury lawsuit is three years after the date of the accident. If the plaintiff fails to bring legal action before that time expires, they lose their right to sue for reimbursement.
Seeking Compensation After a Winter Weather Car Accident in Massachusetts
If a person injured in a car accident is unable to cover their bills and damages with their insurance policy, they can choose to file a lawsuit. Massachusetts allows claimants to seek economic and non-economic damages. There is also the possibility of punitive damages awarded at a judge’s discretion.
Items such as medical bills, auto repair or replacement, lost wages, pain and suffering, and additional related expenses can be included in the damage calculation. There are no limits on the damages a victim can seek in a personal injury claim resulting from a car crash.
Comparative Negligence in Massachusetts
Massachusetts requires that plaintiffs demonstrate negligence beyond a reasonable doubt to assign fault. Negligence means that the defendant had a duty of care and violated that duty. If the plaintiff is unable to prove all four conditions, the defendant cannot be held negligent.
Specifically, the plaintiff must show the following:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to others.
- They breached that duty.
- The plaintiff suffered injuries as a direct result of the breach.
- The plaintiff incurred expenses as a result of the injuries.
Comparative negligence means that blame can be assigned to the plaintiff as well as any defendants. If the plaintiff is found to be 51% or more responsible for the accident, they cannot recover any compensation from the defendants.
What to Do When a Winter Weather Car Accident Happens
When a car crash happens, there are legal duties each driver must fulfill at the risk of facing charges if they don’t. They must remain at the scene of the accident or park as close to it as possible. They must also render aid to anyone needing assistance, such as calling 911, and they must exchange contact and insurance details with one another.
In winter weather, it’s important to move vehicles out of traffic if possible to lower the risk of additional accidents. Cars that are sliding on ice could potentially collide with stranded vehicles or people on the side of the road.
The cold weather can be hazardous if anyone is injured. Rendering aid might include sharing a blanket or warm liquid with another person while waiting for medical assistance if they have been harmed. If possible, drivers should remain in their cars if it is safe to do so to reduce their exposure to the elements.
Staying Safe While Driving in Winter Weather
As Massachusetts prepares to enter the winter of 2022-2023 with potential blizzards, there are preventative maintenance actions every driver should take to increase their safety. The best course of action is to stay home until the roads are cleared of ice and snow. When travel is necessary, some recommendations to avoid the hazards of a snowstorm include:
- Give vehicles a thorough review each time before driving: Check headlights, tires, fluids, brakes, and the battery to ensure everything is functioning in the cold.
- Remove all snow and ice from the car: Clear all windows to increase visibility. Remove snow from the roof, hood, and trunk, so it doesn’t slide off as a hazard to other drivers.
- Extend and maintain a safe distance behind others: Allow more space to create more braking or maneuvering time. Expect that the car may slide and be harder to stop and steer.
- Drive more slowly than usual: Icy roads can increase a vehicle’s speed beyond what the driver intends, adding to the risk of an accident.
- Carry food, water, blankets, and other emergency equipment: In case of a breakdown or accident, drivers and all passengers should be able to stay warm and safe while waiting for assistance.
If you’ve been involved in a winter weather car accident, you need an attorney to help you throughout the process. Call Riccio Law at 617-404-8878 to schedule a free consultation.