How to Determine Fault in a Car Accident Caused by Bad Weather
Not all car accidents are created equal. Some can be minor fender benders and others can leave you with severe injuries. Car accidents caused by weather can be especially devastating because you have the added layer of harsh elements to an already stressful situation, and it may not be clear who is at fault. In Reno, we get our fair share of winter weather, so it is essential that you are prepared with this knowledge if you find yourself in a car accident as a result of snow, ice or rain.
Any time a driver heads out on the road, that driver has a legal responsibility to take “reasonable care” to avoid an accident. So, if you are driving in bad weather, you should slow down and leave room in front of you. You should also ensure you have the proper equipment on your car to be as safe as possible. For example, all head and tail lights should be functioning properly, and you should have tires with good tread or even snow tires or chains.
How to determine liability in a weather-related car accident
According to the US Department of Transportation, weather is a contributing factor in 21 percent of annual car crashes, causing over 1.2 million crashes each year. In each of these crashes, insurance companies and car accident lawyers have to determine liability. The following is evaluated after a weather-related car accident:
- Was the driver going too fast for the weather conditions?
- Was the driver was following at a safe distance behind the other cars on the road?
- The weather event is considered an “event” and not an unexpected occurrence, like a cone being in the roadway.
- Could the driver have taken action to avoid the accident?
- Was the driver’s car ill equipped for the conditions or not in proper working order?
In most instances of weather-related crashes, the driver who is at fault can be held liable, because there are actions the driver could have taken to prevent the crash. It is very rare that no one is considered at fault, and these are extreme cases, often called “Act of God”, such as an avalanche forcing a car from one lane of Mt. Rose Highway to the other.
Degrees of fault in a weather-related accident
There can be degrees of fault, meaning that not one party is 100 percent to blame for the accident. In Reno, Nevada, we have a Modified Comparative Negligence Rule which states that two or more parties can both be the at-fault party in an accident. For example, if you made an unsafe lane change during a snow storm, and a car that was going too fast for the winter conditions rear-ends you, both you and the other car may be found at fault for the accident. The legal issue is what percentage of fault do each of you carry?
In these cases, you can still recover some damages, even if you were partially at fault. Percentage of fault is important because it determines how much you can recover from the other driver’s insurance company. For example, if your damages are valued at $50,000 and you were 30 percent at fault, then your recovery is reduced by your percentage of fault resulting in a total recovery of $35,000, or 70 percent of the damages.
What to do if you find yourself in a car accident caused by bad weather
First, check to see if you are OK enough to move your vehicle out of traffic. Then stay in your car and call 911 to report the incident and get help. Once help arrives, give a detailed police report and take any pictures of evidence with your phone. This could be damage to your vehicle, skid marks in the snow or ice that show the patter of collision, or damage to property. Also collect witness statements and contact information. Once you have been checked out by a doctor, call Matt Dion & Associates for a free consultation. If you have a case, we will contact the insurance company on your behalf and start you claim. From here we will work with you to review your evidence and communicate with your doctor to determine level of injury so you can get the compensation you deserve.