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The entire State of Washington was blanketed with snow over the Holidays. With the snow came an enormous number of automobile accidents. We’re often asked whether weather conditions constitute the mitigating factor in accidents or absolved the outside driver from liability.

While many insurance companies fall back on the vague and in many senses meaningless “Act of God” exception, it’s our belief the weather does not absolve drivers from responsibility for accidents.

Not only are weather conditions “foreseeable” based on forecasts and news reports but also weather conditions by and large are readily perceptible to drivers. If there’s snow on the ground, you have to slow down and anticipate to a greater degree then you do when there isn’t snow on the ground. As a result, the allocation of responsibility for accidents should just the same as it is when blue skies predominate and the pavement is bare and dry.

We also received quite a few questions about “black ice”. Black ice is not actually black. It is clear and is a phenomenon that exists typically when the air temperature is above freezing but the pavement remains cold (below freezing) and clear ice forms on it.

Consistent with the analysis above, we don’t think the existence of “black ice” constitutes a defense that relieves the asphalt driver from responsibility. If temperatures are hovering near freezing it can be anticipated and is foreseeable (the legal terminology) that there will be black ice and that vehicle speed needs to be reduced and actions need to be conducted in a smoother and less abrupt way (for instance, brakes need to be applied more slowly and turns need to be executed more smoothly).

If you have any questions about the accidents or injuries that resulted or occurred during the “winter blast” of 2008/2009, please contact us. We look forward to speaking to you.

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