Who Is at Fault in a Car or Truck Crash Involving Snow or Ice?

Winter is coming and with it, car and truck collisions in which the road conditions are a contributing factor to the crash. Clients often ask, who is at fault in one of these car or truck accidents. At Goddard & Wagoner, our car, truck and motorcycle lawyers handle cases in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio and the answer varies a bit from state to state.

West Virginia- The West Virginia Supreme Court has held that “Although the mere fact that a motor vehicle skids on the highway does not of itself constitute negligence, the driver of the motor vehicle must exercise ordinary care so as to keep his vehicle under control on a road or highway which is covered with ice and snow, in order to avoid an accident, and the failure to exercise such care, under the circumstances, will constitute negligence.” Syl. Pt. 8, Leftwich v. Wesco Corp., 146 W. Va. 196, 197, 119 S.E.2d 401, 403 (1961) (aspects dealing with contributory negligence overruled by Bradley v. Appalachian Power Co., 163 W. Va. 332, 256 S.E.2d 879 (1979))

In other words, a driver must drive reasonably for the conditions, at all times. Thus, in West Virginia, the issue of whether a car or truck driver is at fault in causing the wreck will be an issue of fact left for the jury. If a driver is traveling too fast for the conditions or following too closely for the conditions, they will likely be found at fault. If, however, the driver exercises all appropriate care and the car or truck crash still occurs, he or she may be excused.

Ohio-The Ohio Supreme Court held that “Skidding upon a wet or icy roadway due to bad road conditions alone does not excuse a driver from operating his vehicle upon the right side of the roadway as required by [O.R.C. 4511.25 and O.R.C. 4511.26]” Syl pt. 2 Oechsle v. Hart, 12 Ohio St.2d 29, 231 N.E.2d 306 (1967).

The Court further held that, “Where a motorist unexpectedly comes upon a patch of ice on a dry and otherwise clear roadway which causes him to lose control of his car which skids left across the center line of the highway striking plaintiff’s car, the defense of sudden emergency is not available to such motorist and it is error for the trial court charge the jury with respect thereto.” Id. at Syl. Pt. 3.

Thus, Ohio law imposes, essentially, a strict liability theory on the operators of cars and trucks. The driver is required to follow all safety statutes and regulations (the rules of the road) and will be considered at fault in causing the car crash if he or she violates such a statute, regardless of whether it was caused by snow or ice. Likewise, in Ohio, a driver cannot claim that the ice or snow condition constituted a sudden emergency which would allow the driver to violate the statute. So, in Ohio, if someone slides through a stop light or crosses the center line due to snow, and causes a car or truck accident, that person is at fault and can be made to compensate anyone injured or harmed as a result.

Pennsylvania- Pennsylvania, like West Virginia, follows a ordinary care/reasonable driver theory. See, e.g. Laborda v. Roby, 434 Pa. 184, 252 A.2d 686 (1969). In other words, a driver must take account of the snow and ice road conditions and operate his vehicle accordingly. If a driver fails to operate his car or truck, in Pennsylvania, with regard for the conditions, he will be found at fault and the injured party may seek compensation from his insurance company for the car or truck crash.

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