Maine winters are known for large amounts of snow and the occasional ice storm, which means Mainers frequently need clear off snow and ice from vehicles. But what happens when snow is left on the roof of the car while on the road? Or the windshield has some leftover ice? Is it a crime to leave snow on the car? Can you get sued?
When It comes to laws passed by the state Legislature, guidance is rather slim. The only statute on point requires that the windshield, side mirrors, and rear window be clear of any substance. Committing this moving violation is punishable by four points and a fine. There are no other statutes, criminal or civil, dealing with snow-related driving violations. But people can still find themselves in significant trouble with the law for not removing snow off of their vehicles. Property damage and personal injury cases can turn a snow-covered roof into a mistake costing thousands of dollars in damages and legal fees.
Property damage or personal injuries cases involving snow and ice covered cars would revolve around the legal tort of Negligence. In order to sue someone for negligence, you will need to prove that the person driving had a duty of care while on the road; the driver broke that duty of care; this breach of duty was the actual cause of your injury or property damage; the breach of duty could reasonably be seen to cause the injury, and there is a way to recover from the person that damaged your property or caused your injury.
How would you successfully sue someone for Negligence who damages your vehicle and injures you by not clearing the snow off their car? The first step is to prove that person owed you a duty of care while on the road. Most case law would suggest that people on the road owe a duty of care to other drivers to not cause injury or damage to vehicles. The second step is to prove that driver broke their duty. This is where the snow and ice comes in, as the argument would be that leaving snow and ice on the car breaks the duty of care to avoid injury or damage. The next two steps would be to show that the snow or ice on the car actually caused injury or damage to you or your car, and that it was reasonably foreseeable that this injury or damage would be caused by this snow or ice. This means you will have to prove the snow or ice that injured you or damaged your vehicle came from the person's car. Additionally, you will have to show that the connection between your injury or vehicle damage and the person's falling snow or ice is reasonable, and not the subject of unreasonable circumstances. Lastly, you will need to show damages, or the costs associated with the falling ice. This could be the costs of repairing the vehicle, medical expenses, and even lost wages.
Even if you can prove all of these things, there are potential defenses that can limit your recovery. The biggest of these is called comparative negligence. Comparative negligence can be used by someone who's being sued to show that the person suing was also negligent and that lead to the injury and/or damages. For example, comparative negligence could be raised if you were speeding behind the vehicle, or did not leave enough space between vehicles, or any other type of unsafe operation that likely helped in making the injury or damage more likely.
Clearing off the snow and ice off of your vehicle is not only a safe way to drive, but it can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees and potential damages. If you have been injured in an accident due to snow or ice on another vehicle, call your local personal injury lawyer today and see if you are entitled to recover for damages.