Every changing season carries its own risk of injuries. Just as summer months see an increase in drunk driving crashes, incidents of car accidents and slip and falls steeply increase when weather conditions are poor, According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data from 2014, winter conditions and wet pavement account for 73% of weather-related crashes. Slip and fall accidents are also more likely to occur when conditions are snowy and slick, causing falls on ice in parking lots, sidewalks, and on others’ property. But how can a victim tell who is to blame when bad weather causes a serious injury?
Liability for Winter Weather Car Accidents
Weather can easily be a factor in determining liability for Tennessee car accidents. Liability for a crash depends on the amount of negligence that applies to each driver involved in the crash. While no driver can be held accountable for the weather itself, drivers are responsible for driving in a way that reduces the likelihood of an accident in any and all conditions, including bad weather. If a person was not acting reasonably and responsibly given the road conditions, he or she can be held liable for negligence.
Common forms of negligence in poor weather conditions include:
- Speeding. Many accidents are a result of drivers going too fast for conditions or losing control of vehicles on slippery or icy roads.
- Unsafe maneuvers. Some drivers place undue confidence on their vehicle’s safety features, and use accessories like four-wheel drive as excuses to engage in dangerous behavior. Drivers who brake late, weave between lanes, multitask, text, talk on the phone, drive distracted, or otherwise put others at risk can be held liable in a crash.
- Condition of the vehicle. Drivers have a responsibility to make sure their cars are equipped for winter driving. Bald tires, burned-out headlights, broken windshield wipers, and worn brakes all increase the likelihood of a crash.
- Failure to use lights. When visibility is low, drivers should do everything possible to make sure their vehicles are seen and their intentions are known by using headlights and turn signals (and ensuring that brake lights are functional).
- Drinking and driving. It is doubly irresponsible of a driver to get behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs when the weather is bad. The effects of these crashes can be much worse due to braking and steering difficulties, putting others on the road at unnecessary risk.
- Other parties. Pedestrians and bicyclists must also take extra precaution in poor weather conditions in order to avoid causing an accident. If these travelers swerved in front of cars or were not wearing high-visibility clothing, they could be held partially at fault for a crash.
Compensation for a Weather-Related Slip and Fall Accident
Just as weather affects car accident liability, snow and ice can make a difference in determining who is at fault for a slip and fall accident. In these cases, negligence is based on the responsible person’s knowledge of dangerous conditions and his or her efforts to minimize the risks of falling.
State laws regarding winter slip and fall accidents include:
- Natural accumulation. Tennessee follows a rule of "natural accumulation" when it comes to the removal of snow and ice on a property owner’s premises. By law, owners do not have to keep their property free of snow and ice at all times, but only need to take reasonable steps to remove snow and ice shortly after it has accumulated. Liability can depend on how long the conditions were present, how much snow or ice had accumulated, how likely the conditions were to cause injury, and whether the danger could practically have been removed by the owner.
- Duty of care. Both property owners and pedestrians have a duty to exercise reasonable care when it comes to navigating in wintry conditions. Business owners should remove snow and ice in parking lots or on sidewalks as quickly as possible, and members of the public should wear footwear with traction and use handrails to avoid slipping while walking on snowy or icy paths. The determination of fault will usually depend on which party was not exercising the proper amount of care, and shared fault can reduce a recovery in an injury lawsuit.
- Third party contractors. Property owners will often use a contracted snow removal or groundskeeping company to make sure their premises are safe. If an owner relied on the services of a third party (such as a plowing company) and the contractor did not perform adequate removal of snow and ice, the contractor could be held liable for any injuries.
No matter who was at fault for your injury, one thing is certain: bad weather does not excuse negligence. If you suffered a winter weather accident, you may be able to recover the cost of your medical bills and lost wages. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, please contact our injury law firm today.