Establishing Liability in a Winter Weather Accident in New Jersey
Who Is Responsible When Poor Road Conditions Contribute to an Accident?
Winter can be brutal in New Jersey, with an average of nearly two feet of snow every year. Snowy and icy conditions can make driving treacherous, leading to countless accidents when drivers struggle to stop or control a vehicle. When there’s an accident due to icy or snowy conditions, how do you establish fault? Is it just an “act of God?” As a general rule, the answer is no.
The Duty to Use Reasonable Care
Under the laws that allocate responsibility for personal injury—specifically, the laws of negligence—every person in society has a duty, at all times, to use reasonable care when engaging in any activity. Whether you’re designing or manufacturing a product, maintaining real property, or operating a motor vehicle, you have an obligation to act as a reasonable person would in the same situation.
The obvious question—how do you know what’s reasonable? Unfortunately, the law does not offer specific rules with respect to what’s considered reasonable. If you are injured and file a lawsuit based on negligence, the members of the jury typically make that determination based on the facts and their perception of “reasonable” behavior. The law generally identifies as reasonable what “an ordinary person of average prudence” would do, given the same set of circumstances.
So how does that apply to driving in New Jersey’s winter weather? A jury may look at a number of factors to determine whether there was a breach of the duty of reasonable care:
- Was the person driving at an unreasonable speed, given the weather conditions? Would the accident have been avoided if the driver had been traveling at a slower speed?
- Did the driver properly prepare for the inclement weather? Did the driver adequately clean off windows or brush snow off the car? Did the failure to do so block his or her view of the road?
- Were conditions such that the driver should not have been on the road at all, except in case of an emergency? Was is unreasonable to attempt to drive at all?
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