New Year’s Crashes Fueled by Icy Roads and Drunk Drivers

131209201711-03-weather-1209-horizontal-large-galleryWith freezing temperatures and wet roads forecast in North Texas, I was concerned this weekend would be particularly dangerous and it was. A toxic mixture of drunk drivers and slippery highways led to hundreds of car crashes.

170 auto accidents, including 26 rollovers, happened in Fort Worth on NYE before 9:00 PM — before prime drunk driving hours had even begun.

Later four people tragically died in these car accidents:

  • 12:33 AM – a wrong way driver crashed head-on into another vehicle on I-35 south of Dallas, killing both drivers.
  • 5:20 AM – a motorist died when a car he stole from a strip club caught fire after hitting a curb and crashed into a light pole on Irving Boulevard.
  • 5:25 AM -two good Samaritans stopped to help a driver who had collided with the median wall on LBJ Freeway. Another vehicle slammed into the accident scene, killing the driver and injuring one of the good Samaritans. The other good Samaritan, an off-duty Garland firefighter, escaped injury by jumping over the median when he saw the vehicle barreling down on them.

If ice caused the car wreck, is the other driver automatically liable?

Just because an auto crash happened, liability is not a given. Insurance companies often argue the act of God defense or claim that proportionate responsibility reduces or eliminates damages.

Insurance companies love these defenses. They argue the weather was to blame and that  maybe you were also driving too fast for the bad conditions and not paying proper attention.

But these may not be valid defenses.

The legal definition of act of God is a natural event that is unforeseeable and unavoidable and that causes injuries or property damages. Although the ice formation is a natural event, the driver should have foreseen that ice might form in freezing temperatures and should have altered his driving behavior to avoid an accident under these dangerous conditions. For example, the driver should have slowed down and kept a wider following distance. He also is negligent for not taking appropriate corrective actions upon hitting an ice patch, such as holding the wheel steady and not slamming on his brakes.

Comparative negligence defenses can be even thornier. There are often several vehicles involved in multi-car pileups with conflicting testimony. Witnesses may have had different vantage points. These cases sometimes must be tried to a jury. Texas follows the modified version of this doctrine to establish which person(s) are responsible for causing a tort like a car or truck wreck. Depending on the evidence, one driver can be found to be 80% at fault and another 20%. Immediate investigation is imperative. A person cannot be more than 50% liable and recover monetary damages.

Getting to the root of liability — causation   

Causation is a crucial concept in personal injury liability. To prove your claim, your personal injury attorney must show that the driver’s negligence solely caused your crash. Bad weather is a convenient smoke and mirrors game that must be aggressively attacked.

The insurance company will argue that the driver couldn’t control the weather. We counter that he could have controlled the way he drove in that weather or that he was negligent. These distinctions are crucial to winning you the maximum possible damages — or any money at all.

A typical insurance defense tactic is to get a quick statement and coax someone into admitting the accident wouldn’t have happened but for the ice. The ice might have triggered the event, but the driver’s speeding, tailgating or not proper evasive action once he lost control of his car or truck might be ultimately responsible.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

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