With over 20 inches of snow falling in many towns in Mercer County this past weekend, the increased potential for liability in a civil lawsuit resulting from a storm-related accident surely does not top many people’s list of concerns. But, as New Jerseyans dig out their cars and trucks after the Blizzard of 2016 and begin their commute to work, it is important to be aware of the increased potential for personal injury and legal consequences surrounding a snow storm. With 300 motor vehicle accidents over the snowy weekend in New Jersey, and many more likely to follow, the Attorneys at Weir & Associates are here to offer a few tips to help keep citizens safe and free of civil liability.
Driving With Snow On Your Car
Make sure you clean the snow off of your car! A recent law passed in 2010, exposes New Jersey drivers who fail to properly clean snow off their car to a potential motor vehicle fine of up to $75.00. Even worse, the law increases fines up to $1,000 when personal injury or property damage occur. A simple traffic ticket, however, is not the only exposure New Jersey drivers have as a result of snow accumulation on their vehicles.
Every driver in New Jersey has a duty to exercise, for the safety of others, that degree of care in the operation of his or her car which a reasonably prudent person would exercise under similar circumstances. The failure to remove snow and ice from your vehicle could cause your vision to be obstructed, or cause the snow to fly off and interfere with another driver’s use of the road. In either case, a driver who does not remove the snow from his vehicle, may be found negligent in a civil lawsuit brought by another driver who has suffered personal injuries as a result of an accident.
In other words, don’t be like this guy:
Failure to Obey Traffic Markings
Unfortunately, after a severe event such as Winter Storm Jonas, many roads will not be cleared immediately, leaving roads narrower and traffic lines partially obstructed. In civil suits, traffic lines and other road markings can help identify who was at fault for causing a motor vehicle accident. For example, if Car A merges into Car B’s lane, and in the process strikes Car B, then generally the law in New Jersey holds Car A at fault on a theory of negligence in failing to properly merge.
When road markings are obscured, it is difficult for driver’s to see where lanes begin and end, which can not only cause an accident, but also make it unclear as to who was at fault. New Jersey law expects that people will exercise foresight to anticipate potential dangers in driving on a snow-covered road, therefore the fact that road markings were invisible due to snow may not be a defense to liability. The attorneys at Weir & Associates suggest New Jersey residents drive with extra caution and use reasonable care in the control and operation of their vehicles during, and after, winter storms. This may mean driving slower than the speed limit on a snow-covered road.
Slip and Falls on Snow and Ice
The attorneys at Weir & Associates are also experts in civil lawsuits involving personal injuries resulting from slip and falls on snow and ice. In these cases, a major issue in the liability analysis is the concept of notice. The general duty of an owner of real property in New Jersey to a social guest is that the owner must warn a guest of any dangerous conditions of which the owner had actual knowledge, and of which the guest is unaware.
For example, a person who slips and falls on ice on the patio of someone’s house in July is going to have a tough time proving that the owner of the property should have known there was ice creating a dangerous condition on the premises. A winter storm, like the one that blitzed the Garden State this past weekend, would change the civil-liability analysis quite a bit. In that situation, it is harder for an owner to claim they were unaware of the icy conditions on their property. As such, the attorneys at Weir & Associates suggest that any New Jersey resident entertaining guests at their home should properly remove and salt all snow and ice on their property to prevent any serious personal injuries. In addition, warning guests of a particular patch of ice you are aware of, may help to prevent not only your guest from getting injured, but also civil liability in a lawsuit.
These are but a small number of situations in which winter storms can create civil liability for individuals and businesses. The trial attorneys at Weir & Associates have experience helping New Jersey Residents through difficult legal situations on a daily basis. If you have been injured or are being sued, call our offices to speak with an experienced attorney.