The Weather Caused a Winter Driving Accident; Who Pays the Damages?

winter driving accidentThis season you may be wondering who pays the damages when the snow and ice causes the winter driving accident. Liability depends on many factors including the number of parties involved, the ins and outs of your auto insurance policy, and whether or not anyone involved was acting negligently.

Let us work through some situation with every law student’s favorite learning mechanism: the hypothetical situation.

Liability in a Single-Vehicle, Winter Driving Accident

Imagine Daniel has to go to work on a January morning in Utah. There was a snowstorm the night before, but Daniel works at the hospital, so staying home is not an option. Daniel leaves his home early. He scrapes his windshield. He shovels his driveway, gets in his car, and drives slowly. Despite Daniel’s best efforts and safe driving, his tires skid on ice, and Daniel crashes his car into a light post.

Who is at fault for the accident? Who pays to repair Daniel’s car? Who pays to repair the scraped up light post? Daniel was not negligent. He did not do anything wrong. He drove with reasonable care. However, Daniel was driving the car, and he was the only vehicle involved.

In this case, the cause of the accident was the snowy weather, something that is sometimes referred to as a “act of God.” It is a situation outside human control. And it is for these situations that insurance was invented.

Daniel will have to either pay for the vehicle repairs himself or make a claim to his insurance company and pay the deductible. Some insurance policies do not cover single-vehicle accidents. If you have any questions call your insurance agent.

Liability in a Multi-Vehicle, Winter Driving Accident

Now, imagine that Dana also has to go to work on a January morning in Montana. There was a snowstorm the night before, but Dana works for the power company, so staying home is not an option. Dana leaves her home early. She scrapes her windshield. She shovels her driveway, and drives slowly. Despite Dana’s best efforts, her tires skid on ice, and Dana crashers her car into another vehicle – one driven by Pauline.

Who is at fault for the accident? Who pays to repair Dana and Pauline’s cars? Dana was not negligent. She did not do anything wrong. She drove with reasonable care. However, Dana was driving the car that struck Pauline’s car. Dana is going to have to compensate Pauline for the damage to her vehicle and any injuries caused by the accident.

Dana can use her auto insurance policy to cover these costs. The minimum insurance policy required by law, requires coverage for liability. If Dana’s auto insurance policy also includes coverage for her own vehicle she can use her insurance policy to cover the repairs to her car. It depends on the specifics of her policy.

Dana is not technically at-fault for the accident. The snow was at fault, but her car struck another vehicle, and she must compensate that other person.

Who is Liable When the Idiot Arrives?

For our third situation, imagine Damien has to go to work on a January morning in Montana. There was a snowstorm the night before, but Damien works at the police station, so staying home is not an option. Damien leaves his home early. He scrapes his windshield. He shovels his driveway, gets in his car, and drives slowly.

Despite Damien’s best efforts, as he is driving along the road, his tires skid on the snow and he hits Parker, who is texting and crossing the street without looking for cars.

Who is liable in this situation? It sounds like the situation above. Damien hit Parker. It was the snow’s fault, but Damien did the hitting.

Not in this case. Parker was negligent. He crossed the street without looking, so Parker is at fault. If someone is negligent when the accident occurs, they are responsible for the accident. If both parties are negligent it can get more complicated.

Please realize that real life is always much more complicated than it is on the Internet. You probably should not assume anything until you speak to your insurance agent and an attorney, but those are the basics. If you decide that you would like to speak to an attorney, remember than an Advocate is available 24/7 to chat about your winter driving accident case.

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