In 2010, in response to “dozens of complaints and reports of accidents resulting from people creating dangerous conditions on the roads,” Connecticut enacted its “Ice Missile” law. Starting December 31, 2013, motorists will have a responsibility to clear snow and ice from their motor vehicles before getting out on the road (Public Act No. 10-182, for those of you that are curious).
The law provides the following set of penalties:
- (1) A $75 fine for any operator who fails to remove ice/snow that poses a threat;
- (2) A $200 – $1,000 fine for a noncommercial operator who’s failure to remove snow/ice results in personal injury or property damage;
- (3) A $500 – $1,250 fine for a commercial operator who’s failure to remove snow/ice results in personal injury or property damage;
Note, however, that there are exceptions. Generally, operators do not have to remove snow or ice:
- (1) During an ongoing storm; or
- (2) When a vehicle is parked.
Ultimately, the law is a well-intentioned and necessary step to protect motorists. Indeed, a quick search reveals the very real consequences of the failure to remove snow and ice. While it will certainly be an inconvenience to motorists, lives will be saved and accidents prevented. However, this author foresees issues with the law.
The Act provides that ice or snow on a vehicle that poses a threat to persons or property during operation must be removed. Whether ice or snow “poses a threat” is ambiguous and subjective and may lead to inconsistent implementation by police officers. A fair reading probably means that if there is ice or snow in the bed of your truck, you are in the clear; if the wind can act on it, it should be removed.
This will also place an arguably necessary burden on commercial operators. Unsurprisingly, the lethargic pace of implementation was due in large part to lobbying efforts by the trucking industry and claims that it was “impractical” and “unsafe” to attempt removal of snow and ice on tractor trailers. These arguments lose credibility over time as the industry has now had over five (5) years of notice and time to develop a solution since the public comment period opened in 2008. It is foreseeable, however, that until a permanent solution can be had, early efforts to comply with the law will see an increase in occupational injury among truckers attempting to remove snow and ice.
Most significant is how the new law will interact with the general negligence framework. The changes will invariably benefit those who sustain personal injuries or property damage. As lawyers know, the elements of negligence are: (1) duty; (2) breach; (3) causation; and (4) damages. This law is significant because prior snow and ice claims of this kind required proof of each element. With the enactment of the new law, however, damage or injury caused by the failure to remove snow or ice will constitute negligence per se.
“Negligence per se” requires that an act be considered negligent because of a violation of a statute or regulation. Where accidents result from the failure to remove snow or ice, the cases will be clear. Practically, this will relieve plaintiffs’ attorneys of the necessity of proving “duty” and “breach,” increasing the exposure of insurance companies. Ultimately, the new law will take some getting used to. Until then, invest in ice melt.
Disclaimer: The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Being general in nature, the information and materials provided may not apply to any specific factual and/or legal set of circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. Nothing on this blog is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Past results are no guarantee of future results.