With the recent start of winter, now is the perfect time to address how weather conditions affect liability in car accidents. Even here in the greater Metro Atlanta area, we see our fair share of winter weather. Sure, we might not get the blizzards you experience up north, but we do get adverse weather conditions like rain, ice, and even the occasional snowfall.
With that in mind, if you are involved in a car accident while the weather is less than ideal, here are a few ways the conditions might impact how liability is determined.
What Type of Weather Causes the Most Car Accidents?
When it comes to adverse weather events, you might be surprised to learn that it isn’t snow or even ice that causes the most car crashes… it’s rain. According to the Federal Highway Administration, most weather-related car accidents happen during rainfall or while roadways are still wet.
Of the nearly 1,235,000 weather-related car crashes each year:
70% occur on wet roads
46% occur while it’s raining
18% occur during snow or sleet
16% occur on snowy or slushy roads (though it may not actively be snowing)
13% occur on icy roads
3% occur when it’s foggy
Given this information, it’s important to drive cautiously in rainy conditions, as well as more wintry mixes. If you are involved in a car accident in bad weather, though, how exactly can the weather affect liability in your case?
Who’s At Fault in a Car Accident Caused by Weather?
Even if weather is a contributing factor in a car crash, drivers do still have an obligation to take the weather conditions into account when driving their cars.
For example, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-49 states that drivers “shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”
Likewise, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-180 states that “No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing,” and specifically notes that this should be taken into consideration “when special hazards exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.”
In regards to use of the passing lane, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-184 clarifies that, though the left lane of a multi-lane road is generally only meant to be used for passing other vehicles, this law does not apply “[w]hen inclement weather, obstructions, or hazards make it necessary to drive in the passing lane.”
There are also federal laws that apply to commercial motor vehicle drivers that specifically state how they must operate their vehicles when there are adverse weather conditions. 49 C.F.R. § 392.14 states:
“Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. Whenever compliance with the foregoing provisions of this rule increases hazard to passengers, the commercial motor vehicle may be operated to the nearest point at which the safety of passengers is assured.”
So, let’s say you’re driving somewhere this winter the speed limit is 65 mph, but it’s sleeting and the temperature is dropping. It likely would not be reasonable for you to drive the maximum speed limit in these conditions, as you would be aware that road conditions may become icy given the precipitation and cold temperatures. The fact that you’re doing the speed limit–say it is 55 or 65 miles per hour–could potentially make you negligent if you were to hit an icy patch and go off the road.
However, if you exercise caution as a reasonable driver and reduce your speed to 30 or 40 mph and another driver going 65 were to slide into your lane and hit your vehicle, you would likely have a better chance of winning a claim against that driver because you were exercising caution appropriate to the driving conditions, while they were not.
What is an Act of God?
Now, there may be times when excessively unpredictable weather conditions are fully liable for injuries or damages caused in a car crash, but such cases are rare. An Act of God in a car accident case would have to be something completely out of a driver’s control, such as lightning striking your car, causing you to drive off the road.
In most cases, Act of God arguments don’t stand up in personal injury cases because there is almost always something the at-fault driver could have done to prevent causing a car accident in the first place.
How to Win a Weather-Related Car Crash Case
If you’re injured in a car accident that was at least partially caused by adverse weather conditions, it’s important that you speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney about the circumstances of your accident. It is important to talk to a lawyer soon as critical evidence could be lost or destroyed if it is not examined early on. For example, many vehicles have electronic control modules that capture vehicle data when a wreck occurs. This may include the car’s speed leading up to the wreck and when, or if, the driver applied the brakes. An experienced lawyer can hire the necessary experts who can download that data and prove your case. For more information, reach out to a Marietta personal injury lawyer.
At The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C., our team of award-winning attorneys has extensive experience representing clients injured by other drivers’ negligence,including people driving negligently in poor weather conditions.
If you’ve been injured in a car crash, don’t settle for the first offer the other driver’s insurance company throws at you just because you understand that weather conditions weren’t ideal. All drivers should exercise caution when driving in rain, fog, sleet, snow, etc.
If your injuries were caused by another driver’s negligence, make sure you get the full amount of compensation you are owed in your case. Not doing so could leave you with excess medical bills and lifelong health complications. Contact The Champion Firm today to get a free evaluation of your case. Under our contingency fee arrangement, you pay nothing until we win your case for you.
About the Author
Darl Champion is an award-winning personal injury lawyer serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. He is passionate about ensuring his clients are fully compensated when they are harmed by someone’s negligence. Learn more about Darl here.