Driving in Winter Weather

Posted by & filed under Auto Accidents.

Most of the time, South Carolina’s climate is temperate, even warm. However, weather has been more varied recently than it has in some time, and some are finding it difficult to deal with. Traffic accidents as a result of weather have increased noticeably, especially since the Halloween storm late last year that left noticeable snow on the ground. It is important that drivers know how to handle this kind of weather – if you do not, you may wind up being liable for someone else’s injuries.

Suing A City – Sovereign Immunity

The most common occasion that bad weather might be a discussed factor in your car accident is in dealing with the city or municipality that owns those roads. Usually, cities and towns control road maintenance, and it is these entities that you will be dealing with if you believe that poor road conditions caused your accident. To hold them liable, you as a plaintiff must prove that they (or their contractor) exhibited negligence in maintaining a safe roadway, or conversely, failed to warn drivers of potential hazards.

The problem is that many municipal entities are immune from suit. The doctrine of sovereign immunity mandates that the government cannot be sued by individuals. In places where sovereign immunity applies, this would apply to state contractors in almost all cases, leaving many injured drivers out of luck. This doctrine used to be absolute under the Eleventh Amendment, but its outer limits have been steadily waived by the states themselves.

South Carolina, specifically, has waived a large portion of its sovereign immunity as a state. S.C. Code Ann. Sec. 15-78-20(a) states that suits filed against the state after July 1, 1986 will not be subject to sovereign immunity. However, that ruling applies only to the state. Towns and other municipalities within the state may have different rules.

Potential Insurance Issues

The other time when bad weather in an accident may be relevant is when talking to your insurance company (or the other driver’s, if involved in a two-car accident). It is important to be aware that most insurance companies will not ascribe an accident solely to bad weather, unless it is extremely unusual and remarkable. It will be a factor, but not the only factor, and that can prove a difficult minefield to navigate for the driver who genuinely believes they are not at fault.

However, it is possible to link some of the factors in an accident to the weather – in other words, the weather may not be the actual cause of an accident, but it may be a proximate cause. For example, if a driver claims they skidded on slippery roads, that may be so, but it might not have caused an accident if that driver had not been following too closely. In South Carolina, following too closely is a traffic offense, and a good attorney may be able to argue that if the driver is found guilty of that offense, it constitutes negligence per se. Negligence per se is when the breaking of a statute is in itself a demonstration of negligence, so the plaintiff does not have to prove it.

Contact A Car Accident Attorney

Driving gets even more dangerous in winter, regardless of whether or not there is snow on the road. If something happens, you need a good attorney on your side. The experienced car accident professionals at Callihan & Syracuse know how to handle these situations, and will work hard for you. Contact our North Charleston office for a free consultation.