Earlier this month, on a Saturday morning, multiple fatalities were reported as a result of a massive 50 car pile up on Interstate 78 in Central Pennsylvania. As a result of the accident, cars and trucks were tangled together across three lanes and the snow-covered median.
This accident serves as a reminder of the unique dangers of driving in snow and ice. Importantly, these unique dangers also present unique legal issues. Initially, there are often two potential sets of defendants who may be liable for the happening of an accident as a result of snow and ice: the drivers of any vehicles involved in the accident, and the entity responsible for keeping the roads clear.
For the driver, it's the usual analysis of how reasonable his or her driving was under the circumstance. Even if the driver loses control of his vehicle before the accident, the driver can be held liable if given the condition of the road he should have driven at a lower more reasonable speed or was driving negligently in some other way causing her to lose control. See Tenczar v Milligan, 47 AD2d 773, 774 (3rd Dept 1975).
For the entity responsible of keeping the roads clear, whether it is the city, the county, the state, or a private owner, the question is as follows: did "the condition constitutes an unusual or dangerous obstruction to travel" and did the responsible party either cause the condition or have a sufficient amount of time "to afford a presumption of the existence of the condition and an opportunity to effect its removal" See Mazzella v City of New York, 72 AD3d 755, 756 (2nd Dept 2010) (citations omitted).
As a result, if you are in an accident because of snow and ice, it's key to look at both potential sets of defendants in determining who to hold responsible. Most importantly though, if you are driving in snow and ice, the key is to drive carefully!