In the course of my practice as a personal injury lawyer, I often have to deal with injury claims involving car accidents in bad weather. Car accidents and injuries tend to spike after winter storms and bad weather (snow, ice, rain etc.) in general. The question is who has responsibility for those accidents and injuries. The answer is that it depends. In some cases it is possible that the municipality or other road authority has some or all of the responsibility for failing to maintain the roads properly or failing to close the roadway or take other steps. There are very short limitation and notice periods against municipalities and so it is advisable to speak with a lawyer immediately.
In many cases, driver error or owner error is the cause, or partial cause. In York Region and Durham Ontario, where many of the cases that I work on as a lawyer are litigated, inclement weather is an ongoing issue. Again and again I have to question defendants in cases who swear that it was all the fault of the weather. I have not had a case like that yet (as of February 1, 2013) where the defendant did not ultimately accept some degree of responsibility. In those cases, I usually conduct a detailed enquiry into the car maintenance, including the age of the car, tires, types of tires, braking system, etc. I then go into the mechanics of the accident and the steps that were taken and the likely effects of that conduct. In many cases it is also helpful to consider the type of driver training that the defendant has had and refer them back to some of what they learned about winter driving. Witnesses, police reports, property damage reports and officer notes are also crucial pieces of evidence.
In some cases, the defendant driver is found responsible for the accident, but the municipality/road authority can be found to be responsible for a percentage of the damages. The reason that it is very significant if a municipality is found responsible, is because, in Ontario, if someone (or an entity) is found responsible for any part of a car accident (even 1%) they could potentially be on the hook for the full amount of the plaintiff’s (injured person’s) damages and losses. They could be jointly responsible for the damages together with the defendant driver/owner in many cases. This becomes especially significant when the defendant driver/owner’s insurance policy is not sufficient to pay off the plaintiff/injured person’s full damages that they are awarded.