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What is the liability of the driver who goes out driving in terrible weather conditions?

What is the liability in bad weather conditions? Is he liable just for going out, if he causes injury to other motorists and their passengers?

road conditionsThe short answer is, No, or not if he is driving in an extremely prudent way and he had a necessitous reason for venturing out.  This assumes non essential travel has not been banned.  Often, it is in the most severe adverse weather conditions.  In that event, going out would be subject to more scrutiny.

An Example

Let’s say a husband goes out to pick up his wife from the train station after her work.  There is four inches of snow on the ground.  It is still heavily snowing. The husband would be expected to exercise the EXTRA measure of care required of a driver venturing out in these adverse, worsening conditions. He should travel under the speed limit, to leave extra following distance, to turn on his vehicle’s headlights, perhaps even to activate its hazard lights.  The husband could not drive with no regard to the road conditions.  He would be negligent if he drove as though it were sunny and clear outside.

However, choosing to drive, in and of itself, is probably not the act which would render the driver negligent.  It would be the way in which the driver drove that could potentially be negligent.  Theoretically, one could drive in very severe, snowy conditions if:

  1. He drove at a snail’s pace,
  2. Had a four wheel drive vehicle, and
  3. Was driving for an essential purpose, such as to seek medical care, pick up a family member from his or her workplace or fill a prescription.

Even then, the question would be, “was he driving in a reasonably prudent way under the particular circumstances then and there existing?”   It could be that ANY driving at all would be negligent. However, the conditions would have to be extremely severe and worsening.

If the governor had banned all non essential driving, then just the decision to drive could be negligent.  Ultimately, it is a jury that makes the determination of what conduct is, and is not, negligent.  Thus, the purpose of the venture would certainly factor into the assessment of whether the decision to drive, by itself, was a negligent one.  The more objectively necessary the purpose, the less likely the decision to venture out would be negligence.  However, it could be determined that a reasonably prudent person would, after venturing out, head right back home once experiencing the road conditions first hand.

There is no mathematical test or formula for what is negligence under this, or under any, circumstance.  It all comes down to this:  did the person act in a reasonably prudent fashion, as the ordinarily reasonable man would have done, if faced with the same circumstances?  If your gut is telling you it is a bad idea to drive, then it probably is.

Don’t risk your life or somebody else’s when common sense is telling you to stay home or pull off the road.  There is nothing wrong with waiting out a storm, staying at a friend’s house or even staying at a hotel, when the stakes are so high.  We all know that those stakes when we see the number of traffic fatalities occurring in dangerous Winter conditions.  Take the high road— which in this case, means no road at all.

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