If you’ve ever driven a car in inclement weather on a Canadian road, you know that having control of your vehicle can sometimes feel like an illusion. In a torrential downpour when the wipers are losing ground to the advancing flood at every pass to a mid-winter whiteout, with your windshield painted like a freshly-ironed bed sheet, it can feel like you’re as much a passenger as the person seated beside you. Even for experienced drivers in familiar situations, having control of their vehicle is a feeling that can disappear in the blink of an eye or in as little time as it takes to roll over a patch of black ice on a busy stretch of highway.
Placing the Blame
So when accidents that are caused by bad weather do happen, who is at fault? Can the weather be blamed when it causes the roads to become so slippery that a veteran rally driver would struggle to find grip? Or when you find yourself surrounded suddenly by a pea soup fog so thick that oncoming headlights barely burn through? If both drivers involved in a collision admit that the meteorological conditions contributed to the accident, will their insurance companies and the courts agree that the weather is at fault?
In short: probably not. The Ontario Insurance Act spells it out clearly enough: you can’t blame an accident on weather or road conditions.
“The degree of fault of an insured is determined without reference to the circumstances in which the incident occurs, including weather conditions, road conditions, visibility or the actions of pedestrians…”
Only in extremely rare cases have accidents been deemed inevitable due to weather conditions. The Act spells it out in no uncertain terms: regardless of the source of an accident, the driver is ultimately responsible for any resulting damages. So the blinding snow that caused a fender-bender, the high winds that blew roadside garbage onto your windshield, or the ice that made you fishtail off the shoulder—according to the courts— is all on you. If you are driving the vehicle, you are the one at fault for not adapting to the conditions.
I Didn’t Even Get a Ticket!
Those are the views of the court. The eyes of the law, however, may see things differently.
“In terms of whether or not a police officer charges you with a traffic violation, that might differ in weather conditions,” says Anne Marie Thomas, manager of sales and business development at InsuranceHotline.com. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, she explains how the law and the courts might see the same incident differently. “If you rear-end someone in July, you may get a ticket for following too closely. If in January you do the same because of black ice, a police officer may see the patch and may not give you a ticket. But just because you don’t get a ticket, you’re not absolved from any fault from an insurance perspective.”
That’s an important distinction to remember in the event you ever find yourself in a similar situation. The determination of a police officer on the scene won’t necessarily exonerate you in the eyes of your insurer or in the defence of a plaintiff’s claim for injuries.
What Is Meant by the Term “Negligence”?
A key term to understand when trying to make sense of Canada’s liability laws regarding vehicular accidents that occur due to dangerous weather is negligence.
In hazardous weather, the onus is on the driver to adjust their driving style to the conditions. A person’s driving might be deemed negligent if they:
Fail to lower their speed sufficiently
Don’t leave enough distance between themselves and the cars ahead
Haven’t turned on their headlights in situations of poor visibility
Negligence doesn’t simply cover driver behaviour. The driver is also responsible for the state of the vehicle they are operating. As such, you might be found to have been driving negligently if:
You haven’t installed your winter tires in time, or your tires are worn.
Your windshield wipers are old or ineffective.
Your brakes are in need of servicing.
You didn’t fully clear snow and ice from your car’s windows, mirrors, lights, and roof prior to driving.
Driver negligence is the first factor considered by insurance companies in determining the validity of a weather-related claim. As such, understanding the adjustments a driver is expected to make to their driving style in bad weather is crucial to avoid being found responsible for an accident caused by poor driving conditions. Blaming the weather is not an argument that will stand up on its own in court.
When the Weather Gets Worse
Winter in Canada sees a 49% increase in vehicle collision-related claims, according to insurance company reports. While the rise in accidents can be linked directly to the season’s bad weather, drivers are often underprepared for sudden changes in driving conditions.
The government of Ontario releases yearly guidelines specifically targeted at helping navigate the unique challenges of winter driving. Among their recommendations, they suggest:
Reducing your driving speed
Not using cruise control
Ensuring there is more space than usual between you and other vehicles on the road
Using your automobile’s full lighting system
Never passing a snow plow
The safest way to deal with bad weather is not to drive at all. If that isn’t possible, however, it is strongly recommended that drivers outfit their vehicle with a survival kit. The kit should be kept in the trunk of the car, and include:
Warm clothes or blankets
A safety vest
A small shovel
A snow brush
Windshield wiper fluid
A first aid kit
Non-perishable energy foods
If you don’t have a choice and need to drive through stormy weather, ensure your safety and that of your passengers by preparing for the worst.
Wynperle Law Can Represent You
Accidents happen, and very often the elements play a major part in a driver losing control of their vehicle. Whether you are the innocent victim of an accident caused by another driver, need help dealing with an aggressive insurance company, or are injured after being overserved at a bar or restaurant, you’ll need the services of experts.Should you find yourself involved in an accident due to bad weather, equip yourself with the best help there is. The associates at Wynperle Law have the expertise to tackle the complicated cases put forward by insurance companies, and we’ll even provide a free consultation to discuss your case. Together, we can develop a plan so that you know what to expect during the process. Give us a call at 1-855-821-8320, or contact us here.