Auto Accidents on Icy Roads—Determining Fault When Nature Plays a Part
When it comes to car accidents, a negligent driver owes the other driver compensation for their damaged car and any injuries they suffered. This is why drivers carry auto insurance: To handle claims if they get into an accident. Insurance companies, however, will try to reduce the amount of damages they will cover, or attempt to avoid paying any settlement at all.
Depending on the situation, insurance companies may try using an “Act of God” defense. For example, if a driver slid on an icy road, couldn’t see due to heavy fog, or their car hydroplaned in wet conditions, they may claim that crashing into a victim’s car was unavoidable.
The argument is that the incident was out of the driver’s control. While this might seem like a valid defense, there is almost always someone besides Mother Nature who is at least partially to blame. Experienced personal injury lawyers like Hipskind & McAninch can often prove negligence and get a victim the compensation they deserve.
Icy Roads and the “Act of God” Defense
There are a lot of natural conditions that make car accidents more likely. Ice and snow in particular cause a lot of car crashes, especially on the bridges connecting St. Louis and the Metro East. High winds and tornadoes are common all over the Midwest and might cause semi-trucks to tip or cars to collide. Swerving to miss a deer, fog, or even the glare of the sun might be blamed by a driver if they hit someone. All of these things might come up as part of an at-fault driver’s case.
The legal term for an Act of God is force majeure. A force majeure car accident is possible, but it is rare. These incidents must be caused by natural forces without any human intervention, that could not be reasonably anticipated or prevented.
So, if there were any signs that an accident was possible, or if something the driver did or didn’t do contributed to the crash occurring, it was not an Act of God.
Fighting an Act of God Defense
When it comes to countering an insurance company or defense attorney who is claiming an Act of God defense, it is important to remember the above definition. Yes, all of the things listed involve natural forces. But that does not mean that they could not have been foreseen or avoided by the driver. In most cases, their actions (or lack of action) was what ultimately made the potentially dangerous conditions worse.
For example, there are several things a driver can do during bad weather to ensure their safety and avoid hitting another car:
- Slow down on icy, snowy, or wet roads
- Use headlights in low-visibility conditions like heavy rain, snow, or fog
- Turn on flashers if going very slow or stopping
- Maintain a reasonable distance between cars
- Avoid sudden braking
- Do not drive distracted or impaired
A driver who is going too fast for conditions, or who follows another car too closely, can not use the weather as an excuse if they cause a car crash.
Even being on the roads at all during bad weather could work against a driver’s Act of God defense. Driving during a blizzard or ice storm that was forecasted, or going down roads that are flooded, shows a failure to reasonably anticipate and prevent a bad outcome.
Likewise, ignoring signs warning of animals crossing, icing on bridges, or steep grades can all help to prove a plaintiff’s case that the driver did not take reasonable care to avoid a crash.
When Mother Nature Truly is to Blame
The things that really do make an auto accident unavoidable are rare. The occurrence must be something that a driver does not expect, and that happens so quickly, there is nothing they can do to avoid it.
One example might be a tornado. Although they are usually part of a stormy weather system, tornadoes can form within a few moments. They also take unpredictable paths and can pass over a road tossing cars around. If one car hits another in tornadic winds, it is unlikely the driver would be found liable of negligence.
A lightning strike is another unpredictable event. If a bolt hits the ground near a moving vehicle, the driver could potentially lose control and collide with someone.
A multi-car pileup due to ice or fog might seem like something that is unavoidable. After all, if there is a chain of collisions with a dozen vehicles, a driver who is rear-ended might not be responsible for rear-ending the next car. But, someone is usually to blame in these instances. The first at the back of the group may have been following too close or going too fast and therefore is the responsible party.
Another category of Act of God car crashes result from medical emergencies. If a driver blacks out, or has a seizure, stroke, or heart attack, they may not be liable for a crash they cause. However, if they had a diagnosis of a medical problem that included a warning about driving, or if they had symptoms that indicated that an episode was possible, an Act of God defense will not apply
Consult With a Personal Injury Attorney Before Accepting “No” as an Answer
An insurance company may try to use an Act of God excuse, especially after a car crash on icy roads or during some other situation where nature played a part. They may even offer a small settlement, while maintaining that there was nothing the other driver could do. It is important to consult with an attorney to make sure that the driver was not, in fact, negligent, before agreeing to anything.
Personal injury attorneys will gather evidence to determine exactly what the conditions were like at the time of the crash. What did the weather reports say? Was it reasonable to expect the driver to know of the dangers on the road? Were there other accidents along the route that could have alerted the driver to slow down? All of this information can help provide the proof that there was a human element to the accident and it was not just an Act of God.
It is true, you can’t control the weather—or what happens to the roads in bad weather. However, all drivers are expected to maintain full control over their vehicle. As an alternative, if it is reasonable to assume it is unsafe to drive, drivers are expected to stay off the roads.
If you have been hurt in a car accident, you deserve full compensation for your injuries. Contact Hipskind & McAninch for a review of your case.