Winter-Weather Car Accident Liability in Massachusetts

Winter weather may be an Act of God, but the resulting traffic collisions are usually the result of human error.

Worcester is the snowiest city in the Commonwealth, averaging more than 64 inches of annual snowfall, with average January temperatures below freezing (16-31 degrees Fahrenheit). But many other areas of New England see more dangerous winter weather than most areas of the country. We all know how quickly Massachusetts weather can turn dangerous and motorists must do their part to reduce liability and avoid unnecessary accident risks.snowremoval-225x300

Recently our Boston injury lawyers wrote about  snow-removal liability for businesses and property owners in Massachusetts. But once out on the roads, winter-weather risks are even more severe. 

Car accident lawyers in Boston know driver error is still responsible for the vast majority of collisions. Driving too fast for conditions,  following too closely, and failure to clear ice and snow from your vehicle are among the most common causes of winter-driving collisions.

Winter Driving Safety in Boston

Massachusetts Department of Transportation notes winter driving safety begins with proper preparation. Winter weather stresses almost every component of your vehicle, including tires, battery, headlights, cooling system, brakes and fluids. Beyond proper preparation, just because you can drive, doesn’t mean you should. Remaining home during weather emergencies is often the safest choice. Using public transportation can be another option.

Safe-Driving tips include:

  • Always travel with a charged cell phone.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full.
  • Keep windows and lights clear of frost and snow.
  • Drive with headlights on.
  • Keep emergency supplies, include a cell phone charger, blankets, shovel, flashlight, jumper cable,  and ice scraper, in your vehicle.
  • Drive slowly and allow for increased stopping distance.

Driving near snow plows: 

  • Drive slowly and remain at least 200 feet behind a plow.
  • Be prepared to stop.
  • Never attempt to pass a plow on the right.
  • Understand the safest place on the road is often well behind a snow plow.

Boston’s parking restriction map requires car owners to remove their vehicles from many main thoroughfares during snow emergencies so that streets can be properly cleared. Whenever it snows and street parking is not prohibited, drivers must be careful not to block sidewalks, fire hydrants, wheelchair ramps or driveways and should always park at least 20 feet away from intersections.

Injury Liability for Winter Driving Car Accidents

Early consultation with an experienced Boston car accident attorney can best protect your rights after a serious collision, regardless of whether weather was a factor in your accident. But careful documentation of weather conditions can be important when it comes to proving liability of an at-fault driver. Often, these cases are not much different from other negligence claims resulting from motor-vehicle collisions. However, obstructed views, accumulation of roadside snow, and other dangerous conditions may contribute. While negligent driver behavior may be the primary cause, documenting such conditions may be necessary to prove a driver acted inappropriately or without proper regard for the safety of others, given the road conditions at the time of a collision.

For example, M.G.L. Ch. 90 Sec. 13 makes it illegal to operate any vehicle with accumulated ice or snow. Not only must the windshield and other windows be clear, but snow must be removed from hoods, roofs and trunks. Flying ice and debris can cause a major hazard for other motorists on the road. While violations may result in a $40 fine, the resultant liability in the event of a collision can result in far more serious consequences.

Distracted driving is another common cause of weather-related traffic crashes. While it’s true driver distraction is a constant threat on our roads, bad weather increases the risks posed by inattentive motorists. Again, seeking experienced legal help will best allow you to determine causation and assign liability to all at-fault parties in the wake of a weather-related collision. Like other types of car accident claims, proving negligence in the wake of a winter driving collision requires a victim to prove a number of elements:

  • That at-fault motorist owed a victim a duty of care.
  • That defendant breached that duty.
  • Breach resulted in plaintiff injury.
  • That injury resulted in compensable damages.

In addition to medical bills and property damage, a victim may also claim non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering in some cases. Your Boston injury lawyer will work on a number of fronts once these basic elements of your damage claim are established. For example, identifying all at-fault parties may result in additional claims against other defendants. Determining the full extent of your damages is also an area where an experienced injury law firm can work to make sure you receive all of the compensation to which you are entitled under the law.

Safe winter driving can not only reduce your risks of being involved in a motor-vehicle collision, but will also reduce the chances you are found financially responsible for the resulting injuries and damages.

The City of Boston offers a number of additional winter driving tips:

  • Avoid driving whenever possible during severe weather or snow emergencies.
  • Beware of broken traffic signals and treat malfunctioning or inoperative traffic lights like stop signs.
  • Remove snow or ice from the hood, roof and trunk of your vehicle.
  • Beware of visual obstructions caused by snowbanks.
  • Take extra time to look for pedestrians or oncoming traffic.
  • Drive slowly and allow for increased stopping distance.
  • Avoid distraction.
  • Use special care at intersections or in parking lots.

While many motorists think collisions in bad winter weather make it easier to pursue an injury claim, the opposite is often true. Bad weather can complicate a claim for damages. Failure to document conditions as they existed at the time of a collision can negatively impact your case. In some cases, law enforcement may even be reluctant to find a motorist at fault when weather was a substantial factor. These and other factors mean these types of claims are best handled by a law firm with extensive experience in handling serious injury claims resulting from motor-vehicle collisions during inclement weather.

If you are injured in an accident in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Massachusetts Laws About Snow and Ice, Mass.gov.

More Blog Entries:

Massachusetts Drunk Driving Accident Victims Must Fight Hard for Compensation, Feb. 25, 2018, Boston Drunk Driving Accident Attorney Blog