As winter is approaching and temperatures are dropping, freezing conditions are inevitable. When these freezing conditions contribute to motor vehicle crashes, as happens several times a year, it can be difficult for motorists to determine liability.
Rear collisions are particularly common. Despite the familiar term “fender bender,” which is sometimes used to refer to these types of accidents, rear collisions can cause serious injury.
Under normal road conditions, the rear car, the one hitting the rear of the vehicle in front, is usually responsible. This is primarily because motorists are required to maintain a safe tracking distance, or the distance between the front of their vehicle and the rear of the vehicle in front of them. Of course, there are some exceptions, depending on the circumstances of the individual accident.
Likewise, the driver of the rear car is most likely to be the one held responsible for a rear collision which occurs in freezing conditions. As a general rule, motorists are responsible for maintaining control of their vehicle at all times while driving. This includes times when road conditions are less than ideal.
Responsibilities of Motorists in Ice Driving Conditions
When a person drives in icy conditions, they should take steps to ensure that they can maintain control of the car in those conditions.
Typically, these steps can include:
- Reduce their speed below the posted speed limit
- Increase the tracking distance between vehicles from the recommended stopping distance of three seconds under normal road conditions to a stopping distance of five or six seconds, as recommended by AAA
- Accelerate and decelerate more gradually than in normal road conditions
- Particularly progressive in turn to avoid the vehicle Become uncontrollable
- Avoid using cruise control and be prepared to apply constant pressure to the brakes if necessary, so that they can stop or slow down without slamming the brakes and increase the risk of losing control of the vehicle
- Know when and how to change gears for better control and traction in snow or ice conditions
Drivers who do not take these precautions in foreseeable ice conditions are likely to be held responsible when they collide with a car from behind.
When would the driver of the rear car not be responsible (or not completely at fault)?
In some cases, the driver of the lead car may be the one responsible for a rear crash or, more likely, may share some of the blame for the crash.
Here are some examples of situations in which the driver of the lead car may take at least partial responsibility for the accident:
- The lead car backing into the back car
- The lead car cutting off the rear car when cornering, changing lanes, or merging in traffic, so the rear driver did not have an opportunity to establish a safe distance between the vehicles
- The lead car does not have functioning brake lights to signal the rear driver that the motorist intends to stop or slow down
Icy road conditions, by themselves, do not absolve drivers of liability. The rear car slipping on a patch of ice in foreseeable ice conditions will generally be responsible for the accident it causes, as it should have known and taken precautions for the road conditions.
What to do if you’ve been injured in a rear-end collision on icy roads
Regardless of who is responsible for the accident, anyone injured should receive prompt medical examination and treatment.
Typically, you do not have to determine who is responsible for an accident until it is examined by emergency medical personnel, emergency department physicians, or providers in an emergency care facility. especially if your accident happened in a no-fault state like New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Your health is the most important thing.
If you are responsible for the collision
If you are worried about being responsible for the accident, know that your auto insurance company is generally required to protect you from the financial consequences of a civil action resulting from a traffic accident. Your auto insurance policy covers damages owed to the claimant (up to your policy limits), and your insurer will appoint a lawyer to represent you at no additional cost to you.
Promptly notify your insurance company of the collision. If you receive tickets or tickets for violations of motor vehicle laws, payment of such fines or other penalties will be your responsibility.
In situations where you believe you are only partially responsible for the accident, you may still be entitled to compensation. A free consultation with a motor vehicle accident lawyer can help you understand your rights, responsibilities, and legal options in your unique situation.
If you are not responsible (or less responsible) for the accident
For victims injured by rear driver negligence, whether they are occupants in the lead car or passengers in the rear vehicle, the accident has turned your life upside down. You deserve and are entitled to compensation for the damage you suffered as a result of the accident. Usually, you would get this compensation by pursuing a personal injury claim with the car insurance company of the driver at fault.
While it is not mandatory to hire a lawyer for a car accident claim, it is often wise to do so when your injuries and other damage are significant. Search by Insurance Research Council showed that lawyers earn on average 3.5 times more money for their clients, than unrepresented claimants. You should know that lawyers usually handle claims like yours on a non-winning basis and free of charge, so you will not pay anything up front to make a claim.