Who Is Liable for a Car Accident Caused by Bad Weather?

Head-on Car Accident in SnowDrivers who behave negligently and do not adjust their driving behaviors during inclement weather can be liable for a car accident caused by bad weather.

Drivers Have a Heightened Duty of Care During Bad Weather

In addition to ordinary traffic laws all drivers must follow, there are special rules that apply in situations of adverse road conditions or inclement weather. Under Washington law, you can be negligent even if you were not speeding, tailgating, or breaking any other traffic law if your driving behavior was not appropriate for the circumstances.

When the roads are slick, it is rainy or foggy, or any situation other than fair weather and dry roads, Washington law imposes the duty to drive in a manner that is appropriate for the conditions. This requirement means that you must slow down and allow more distance between your car and the other vehicles on the road. Failure to do so is negligence.

Below, we detail a few of the special rules Washington drivers must observe in inclement weather:

Maintaining a Safe Following Distance

RCW § 46.61.145 prohibits Washington drivers from following “another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”

The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) recommends a following time of four seconds if you are traveling above 30 miles per hour in optimal conditions.

If the state of the roadway is less than optimal due to inclement weather, you should increase that following time. If a driver is following a car too closely in inclement weather, he can be liable for any accidents that occur.

Speeding

The proper speed at which to operate your vehicle also has a different definition during times of adverse weather and road conditions. You must, regardless of the posted speed limit, drive your car at speeds that are appropriate under the circumstances. RCW § 46.61.400 provides:

“No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.”

The statute also requires all Washington drivers to slow down as much as necessary to avoid collisions at all times and “in every event.” For example, a driver could be liable for causing an accident if he was driving only 30 miles an hour in a 55-mph posted speed limit when the roads were icy.

In every case, who is liable boils down to who behaved negligently. If a driver rear-ended you because the rain made it difficult to brake quickly, the driver is liable.

What About Situations That Seem Unavoidable?

Some accidents, such as skidding on black ice into another car or losing control when hydroplaning, seem unavoidable. For example, if a driver crashes into your car head-on after hitting a patch of black ice, you might think that he had no control over that. However, if there is a chance there might be icy conditions, drivers must operate their vehicle more slowly.

Drivers must take the same amount of caution with rain. If it has been raining all day, chances are there will be deep puddles in the road. Drivers should keep a lookout and drive slowly in case they need to navigate a puddle.

How Do Insurers Determine Who Was at Fault in A Bad Weather Car Accident?

Law enforcement will add a layer of scrutiny to their ordinary accident investigation in bad weather. The officer will pay close attention to the weather and road conditions, and how each driver responded to the current circumstances. The accident report should include details about these conditions.

Insurers will study this report as well as both parties’ accounts of the accident. They will then come to their own conclusions about how the accident occurred.

We will also examine the police report, and do our own investigation of the wreck. Officers are human, and sometimes they miss crucial facts. If necessary, we will work with accident reconstruction experts to determine what actually happened at the scene. We will talk with eyewitnesses and visit the location where the accident occurred. We will gather the evidence to build your claim and prove the other driver’s negligence.

What Happens if You Were Partly at Fault in the Wreck?

You can still recover compensation. Washington follows the doctrine of pure comparative fault. “Comparative fault” means that your negligence will reduce your compensation proportionally. Pure comparative fault allows you to receive money for your damages even if your fault was as high as 99 percent.

For example, if a driver hit you head-on after sliding on black ice, he would be responsible for your damages. However, if you were changing the radio station at the time and could have avoided the accident had you had your full attention on the road, the insurer might find you 20 percent at-fault. If your damages totaled $100,000, you would be able to recover $80,000.

Call Max Meyers Law, PLLC for Help

If you suffered injuries in a car accident, Max Meyers Law, PLLC can help. Call us today at 425-242-5595 to get your free, no-obligation consultation.

Max Meyers
Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.