One Can Only Hope: The Last of Bad Weather Accidents
Enough is enough. Four Nor’easters in one year are beyond belief. New Jersey’s unpredictable weather can make road conditions treacherous. Snow, rain, ice, sleet, freezing rain, and fog can all contribute to slippery roads and poor visibility. High winds can also cause downed tree limbs and wires to create a hazardous driving obstacle course.
New Jersey is a crowded state with a lot of traffic. You may be a careful driver, even in bad weather, but accidents can still happen. Here is an example. Despite Old Man Winter’s last gasp with a March snowfall, you find that you still need to get to work, despite the risk of the potentially icy roads. As you are driving, you are hit from behind by another driver who lost control on black ice and ended up sliding into you. Did the other driver fail to consider the slick road and poor winter weather conditions and not apply enough braking distance? Can you sue for negligence?
In another example, you skid and lose control of your car during a snowstorm and hit a tree. You believe the slick highway was caused by the road not being plowed or salted. Can you blame the weather? Can you file a personal injury claim against the county or state?
What are my rights?
Winter auto accidents can lead to injuries and fatalities. A USA TODAY article reported that from 2011 to 2015, an average of about 800 Americans died each year in car accidents because of snow, freezing rain, sleet or ice, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center.
If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident due to bad weather conditions and not at fault, you might be able to file a personal injury claim against the other driver. But what if the road—or the weather—is to blame because the street wasn’t plowed or salted? The New Jersey Tort Claims Act, or Title 59, grants state agencies, counties, cities, towns, and all public entities in New Jersey protection in negligence cases. Moreover, there is a provision of Title 59 for weather immunity (N.J.S.A. 59:4-7), which states that the public entity cannot be responsible if the cause of the accident is the weather.
While filing a lawsuit against the state or county would indeed be tricky, it is not impossible. For example, if an icy street was not plowed or salted and caused a permanent or disabling injury or fatality, the public entity could be held liable. But, bringing a lawsuit against a public entity is a very complicated process, and you will need an experienced personal injury attorney to help you understand the Title 59 restrictions. However, to even consider the case, you’ll need to act quickly. There are very tight time limitations.
By the same token, someone else could be liable if accumulated snow and ice falls from their vehicle and causes a car accident. New Jersey law, under N.J.S.A. 39:4-77.1, requires you to exercise due care by clearing snow and ice from your vehicle before driving. This includes the car’s “hood, trunk, windshield, windows and roof.”
The challenge for you is establishing who may be at fault and proving it. If you have been involved in a car accident caused by bad weather conditions, you may need the assistance of an experienced car accident attorney. Please call The Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafaljo to set up a free consultation. You may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses.