Fault for A Winter Traffic Accident: Government Liability for Winter Weather Car Crash


Fault for A Winter Traffic Accident: Government Liability for Winter Weather Car Crash

Winter is here, and driving along the interstates and roadways of Indiana and Illinois for the next few months will mean dealing with the realities of snow, ice, rain, sleet, and periodic storms that bring with them things like whiteouts.

Recent news reports are that Winter 2015 saw a huge jump in the number of fatal traffic accidents in this country. So, we’re moving into the Winter of 2016 with lots of folk worried about how many tragic fatal crashes are going to happen here.

For more read our post, “Fatal Highway Accidents Skyrocketed in First Half of 2015: What Will Winter 2016 Bring to Indiana and Illinois?

After you have been in an accident on a wintry road here in our part of the country, there’s always the question of damages and if you have a claim to pursue for negligence. Just because you were a victim of bad weather in a serious car crash or traffic accident doesn’t mean that no one is legally responsible for what happened.

You may well have a claim for damages to file against any number of third parties, including for example:

  • the state or local government agent that is responsible for taking care of that roadway’s safe condition;
  • The auto parts manufacturer or tire maker that provided you with a faulty product;
  • The service company that made a mistake in the upkeep or repair of your vehicle;
  • The restaurant or bar that served the driver who was over the legal limit and intoxicated when he hit your vehicle; and/or
  • The company who owns the vehicle that hit you and failed to pull its drivers off the road in bad conditions.

Poor Road Condition Accident Liability

Not many drivers consider the duty of the government agencies to take care of road conditions; we all drive along and take those smooth roads with their curbs, speed bumps, and drainage systems for granted.

However, in Indiana and Illinois there are state and local responsibilities for making sure that things like guardrails are secure and road designs are not inherently dangerous. It can be complicated to prepare and win a personal injury or wrongful death case based upon poor road conditions in a winter weather crash, but it can be done. Sometimes, justice demands it.

What Is Negligent Road Maintenance?

In winter weather crashes, negligence in keeping up the roads will mean that the governmental agency responsible for that road condition could have fixed it but failed to do so and that danger was the cause of the crash and its resulting injuries (or deaths). If there was a budget decision to cut costs on fixing highway guardrails and an unhinged guardrail failure caused a fatal car crash, then that agency may be found negligent and responsible for the accident.

Road conditions can cause serious and fatal car accidents. Crashes can happen in winter weather from things like:

  • Roads not salted in winter weather
  • Highways not plowed in winter weather
  • Broken guardrails
  • Lack of lighting
  • Missing signs
  • Damaged signs or traffic lights
  • Blind curves
  • Improper grades
  • Lack of warning signs.

In these cases, the injury victim must gather witness statements and documentation that provides admissible evidence that the poor road conditions on that winter day (or night) caused the accident. They must also establish that the agencies (and/or contracted third-party companies like the company that leases the Indiana Toll Road) were responsible for these roads and either failed to do their job of maintenance and repair or they failed to warn drivers of the hazard at the time of the crash.

And these accident victims must be able to jump the hurdle of “governmental immunity” or “sovereign immunity” which exists in many instances to protect taxpayer dollars by barring lawsuits for injury damages against the government.

Can the Government Be Sued for Your Winter Weather Car Crash?

It is true that it will be the exception to the rule that allows a winter weather crash victim to collect injury damages from the federal, state, city, or county agencies that caused their accident. However, there are exceptions on the law books that do allow these accident claims to be filed against the government and damages to be paid for negligence by a governmental agency.

Each state is different on what is allowed here. Indiana and Illinois are not the same.

And you may need to move quickly: there is a time deadline that applies to all these cases, and once that date is passed your claim will not be allowed.

For instance, Indiana Code Section 34-13-3-3(3)  provides: “A governmental entity or an employee acting within the scope of the employee’s employment is not liable if a loss results from . . . (3) the temporary condition of a public thoroughfare which results from weather.”

Which means that you may well need the guidance of an experienced accident attorney to help you determine not only who is responsible for your accident in bad winter weather conditions, but how to hold them legally accountable for their negligence and the mistake that caused such severe injuries or even the tragic death of a loved one in a bad weather crash.

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