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Who’s Liable in a Car Accident when Icy Roads are a Factor?

March 26, 2019

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

Ice and snow were cited as the reason for three car accidents involving a total of 15 vehicles on the Platt Bridge on January 12, 2019. While there were no injuries reported due to the crashes , often ice and snow can cause catastrophic accidents resulting in very serious injuries and at times, even fatalities. So, when ice and snow have accumulated on the roads, who can be held liable? Can drivers be considered negligent when an accident was caused by bad weather conditions?

In order to answer this question, three different legal concepts must be examined. These are negligence, the assured clear distance ahead rule, and the sudden emergency doctrine.

Negligence in Car Accidents

Negligence is a legal concept that is the basis of most personal injury lawsuits. When a person is negligent, they have not taken the proper duty of care for another person’s safety. In personal injury law, that negligence must have caused serious injury in order for there to be a basis for a lawsuit. Often, negligence in a lawsuit is fairly clear.

For example, if a driver was traveling through an intersection after the light turned green, but another driver ran a red light and hit the driver, that could be considered negligence. The driver of the striking vehicle clearly did not stop for the red light, which is a traffic law, and so, they could be found negligent.

In the case of poor weather conditions, negligence is not as clear. When roads are covered in snow and ice, can that be considered negligence on the part of a driver that hit another vehicle? It could be, if that driver did not follow the assured clear distance ahead rule.

Assured Clear Distance Ahead Rule

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that the assured clear distance ahead rule implies that a driver must be able to come to a full stop within the distance they can clearly see. This distance is also often referred to as a distance that may be reasonably anticipated.

Under this rule, drivers must take extra caution on hills, curves, winding roads, narrow roads, and on roads affected by inclement weather condition s. Specifically , Title 75 of the Pennsylvania Code touches on the rule stating that no driver should travel at a speed “greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions.” Essentially, drivers must be able to drive safely according to the conditions of the road.

According to this rule, if a person was driving too quickly on roads packed with ice and snow, even if they were driving under the speed limit, they may still have a lawsuit filed against them, depending on the situation.

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the sudden emergency doctrine may be used as a defense by drivers traveling on poor road conditions. This doctrine states that if a driver is confronted with a sudden emergency that provides them with very little or no time to react, this can be used as a defense against a lawsuit. This is because in cases of sudden emergency, drivers are not expected to use the same degree of care they would if that emergency situation had not been present.

For example, if a car was traveling down an icy road in a safe manner and someone else cut them off abruptly, the driver traveling safely could not be named in a lawsuit. However, that same driver may have been following another vehicle too closely. If the vehicle they were following suddenly came to an abrupt stop, causing the driver to crash into the back of their car, the sudden emergency doctrine could not be used as a defense. This is because the driver that hit the vehicle would have been violating the assured clear distance rule.

Let a Pennsylvania Car Accident Attorney Review Your Case

At times, inclement road conditions are going to cause accidents in Pennsylvania. Whether or not someone can be found negligent or held liable in these instances will depend on the specific facts of a case. Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer will be able to review these facts and advise on when a lawsuit can be filed.

If you have been in an accident and believe someone else was at fault, contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim at (215) 486-0123. We know the many different laws pertaining to accident cases, and will apply them to your situation and advise on the best way to proceed. If someone else was at fault for the accident, we will also work hard to get you the full amount of compensation you are entitled to. This is just one way in which personal injury claims can become very complicated. If you have been hurt, call today for your free consultation.


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