Accident Liability and Inclement Weather
Winter weather brings with it a unique set of challenges for drivers, with snow and ice-covered roads contributing to a significant number of accidents each year. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that over 24% of crashes in the United States occur in snowy or icy conditions, and 15% occur during active snowfall or sleet. Icy roadways are a significant danger to drivers, especially those in Louisiana who have limited experience with these conditions.
Although roadway safety is the responsibility of all drivers, and a reasonable driver knows how to adapt their skills to the changing conditions, the one who hit you may not always be liable for the accident.
What is Black Ice?
Black ice, often referred to as “invisible ice,” is a thin coating of ice on roadways that is nearly transparent and takes on the color of the underlying surface, usually asphalt. It forms when moisture, such as dew, fog, or light rain, freezes on road surfaces, creating a highly hazardous condition for drivers. The term “black” is derived from the fact that the ice is often so thin that the dark road surface beneath it is visible.
One of the primary dangers of black ice is its deceptive appearance, as it can be challenging for drivers to detect. Unlike snow or thicker ice, black ice is nearly invisible, making it difficult to identify and navigate. Drivers may not realize they are on black ice until their vehicles start skidding or sliding uncontrollably. This lack of awareness and sudden loss of traction contribute to a heightened risk of accidents, such as:
- Loss of Control Accidents: Black ice often leads to drivers losing control of their vehicles, resulting in skids, spinouts, and fishtailing, which can lead to collisions with other cars or road barriers.
- Rear-End Collisions: Due to the challenging visibility of black ice, drivers may fail to adjust their speed or maintain a safe following distance, increasing the likelihood of rear-end collisions.
- Multi-Vehicle Pile-Ups: The deceptive nature of black ice can trigger chain reactions, causing multi-vehicle pile-ups as one skidding vehicle sets off a series of collisions involving other unsuspecting drivers.
- Pedestrian Slip-and-Fall Accidents: Black ice isn’t confined to roads; it can also create hazardous conditions for pedestrians. Sidewalks and crosswalks covered in black ice increase the risk of slip-and-fall accidents for individuals on foot.
Car accidents caused by black ice often result in serious injuries due to the unpredictable nature of these incidents. When a vehicle encounters black ice, the driver may lose control, leading to collisions, spins, or even rollovers. Injuries sustained in such accidents can range from minor bruises to more severe consequences, including fractures, head injuries, and spinal injuries. The unexpected nature of black ice-related accidents underscores the importance of caution and preparedness when driving in conditions that may contribute to its formation.
Who is Responsible?
Most often, the at-fault driver will be held accountable for crashes, even if caused by inclement weather. However, a third-party could assume some responsibility for not ensuring the roads are properly maintained.
When given sufficient notice, most municipalities will have the roads salted or monitored and inform the public of safety measures being taken. Additionally, in areas where dangerous conditions are more common, construction crews will be advised to design roads with sufficient drainage and reinforcement to account for changing weather conditions. In these circumstances, it could very well be possible to hold a third-party entity accountable for an accident.
Another way that liability could be shifted is if there is a significant pile-up of cars. Snow and ice often cause multi-vehicle collisions where it can be challenging to determine who is ultimately at fault. With this situation, it may be beneficial for you to work with an experienced car accident attorney to ensure your rights are protected.
Reducing Your Probability of a Crash
Driving in snow and ice is a skill that can take a lifetime to master; however, the Louisiana State Police encourage extra caution in these conditions and have provided several tips for safe driving:
- Minimize Travel: If possible, avoid unnecessary travel during inclement weather to reduce exposure to hazardous road conditions.
- Adjust Speed: Decrease your driving speed and allocate extra time for your journey to accommodate for potentially treacherous roads.
- Increase Following Distance: Maintain a greater following distance between your vehicle and others on the road to allow for extended reaction time in case of sudden stops or skidding.
- Avoid Cruise Control: Refrain from using cruise control in icy conditions, as it may impede your ability to quickly respond to changing road conditions.
- Anticipate Stops: Be proactive in anticipating stops, such as at stop signs or traffic signals, and apply gentle braking to minimize the risk of skidding.
- Be Cautious of Hidden Ice: Recognize that ice may be challenging to spot, particularly on overpasses, bridges, and shaded areas of the roadway. Exercise extra caution in these locations.
- Skid Response: If you find yourself in a skid, promptly lift your foot off the accelerator and steer into the skid until you regain control of your vehicle.
- Use Low Beam Headlights: When encountering rain or sleet, utilize low beam headlights to enhance visibility and make your vehicle more conspicuous to others.
- Watch for Maintenance Vehicles: Stay vigilant for slow-moving Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) vehicles, as well as first responders on the road.
- Emergency Vehicle Etiquette: If you spot emergency vehicles on the shoulder, either move over or, if unable to do so safely, reduce your speed to ensure the safety of first responders and other road users.
Remember, your safety is paramount. If you feel uncomfortable driving in inclement weather, it’s advisable to stay home to avoid potential accidents.
Car Accident? The Chopin Law Firm LLC Can Help
At our New Orleans-based firm, we are dedicated to helping you hold negligent individuals accountable for causing your injury. We can assist you with car accidents caused by black ice. If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident this winter and sustain an injury, call (504) 323-9525 to get in touch with a member of our team for a free consultation. Our personal injury attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience and will review the details of your case, providing you with a personalized and strategic legal plan moving forward. Your recovery matters, and we are here to fight for your financial compensation.
Don’t navigate the challenges of a winter accident alone. Contact The Chopin Law Firm LLC today for the support and legal representation you need.