When the roads turn to ice, cars will collide with each other. But how does the law determine who, if anyone, is at fault for a crash on icy roads?
The rules of the road seem to be simple: an operator of a motor vehicle must operate that motor vehicle as a "reasonably careful person" would under the circumstances presented to the driver. We are all drivers. We are all "reasonably careful persons." Therefore, it should be obvious to figure out which driver was at fault for an accident on an icy road. But it is not.
Sometimes the driving statutes are more specific: a driver must not drive at a speed exceeding the reasonable speed for road conditions; a driver must drive with sufficient space between his car and the car in front to come to a safe stop before hitting the car in front.
Often neither the general law of negligence ("reasonable person") nor the specific law of driving regulations will provide sufficient descriptions of acceptable conduct in order for the law to determine who was at fault for an accident on an icy road.
Consider this example: a driver leaves her home in the snow to go to a doctor's appointment. The city street on which she regularly travels is a steep hill which, on this day, has yet to be sanded and is fast turning into ice with the cars going over it. At the bottom of the hill is a cross street with stop signs. Another driver waits at the stop sign to cross the street. The downhill driver puts on her brakes carefully in order to slow her speed going down the icy hill. The downhill driver uses all the care she can to control her car, but it continues to gain speed on the hill, and on the ice, to the point where it goes out of her control and at the bottom of the hill slams sideways into the driver's side of the car sitting at the stop sign on the cross street. The driver of the car at the stop sign is seriously injured in the collision. Who is at fault for this collision?
Would it have been reasonable for the downhill driver to cancel her appointment in light of the deteriorating weather conditions and never attempted the trip? If she did not have a 4-wheel (or all-wheel) drive, was it reasonable for her to even attempt to leave her home and drive on the city streets that day? If she had to drive, wouldn't it have been reasonable for the downhill driver to take another route, even one she was not as familiar with, that was not as steep, and therefore not as dangerous when icy? Did the downhill driver start down the familiar hill at a speed that was usual and customary for dry roads, but too fast for the icy road? Should the downhill driver not have attempted to brake at all on the ice, and just held on to steer the car straight—no matter how fast her car ended up going on the ice by the time she got to the cross street at the bottom of the hill? If she did attempt to brake her car, was she negligent in failing to control her vehicle on the icy descent, such that she slid into the car at the stop sign?
These are really hard questions for any of us to answer in order to assess fault for a collision on an icy street. On one hand, why should the driver, who had done nothing at all and was just waiting at a stop sign for traffic to clear, have to pay for all his medical bills and lose time from his job without compensation? On the other hand, what did the downhill driver do that was any more "unreasonable" than any of us would do under the same circumstances, such that her insurance should have to pay for her negligence?
Since 2003, Colorado law has required that "fault" be proven in a car accident in order to recover compensation for injuries and damages from the striking driver in a car accident. If the collision was not caused by the negligence of the other driver, no matter how serious those damages may be, no compensation will be paid for damages from the collision. While facts and circumstances of an accident may raise an inference of negligence of a driver, the mere occurrence of an accident does not give rise to any presumption of negligence of any driver involved in a collision.
In cases of serious injury, and uncertain fault ("liability"), consider consulting with an experienced car accident attorney, such as those at Clawson & Clawson LLP. The car accident attorneys at Clawson & Clawson LLP will speak with you at no charge by phone, or in an office conference, to determine whether there are any facts of the collision that could be used to hold the striking driver at fault ("liable") for any collision on an icy street—and these attorneys can tell you whether you have any recourse to obtain compensation from the striking driver's insurance company for the damages you had in that collision.