Driving through snow or ice can be a risky endeavor that requires careful attention from the driver. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), wintry conditions accounted for 440 fatal accidents and 33,000 injuries in 2019. Those who keep our roads clear during inclement weather must pay special attention when operating snowplows, which can be large and unwieldy. If a plow driver is exceeding recommended speeds or otherwise operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner, they risk seriously injuring other drivers, or in extreme circumstances, even killing them.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a snowplow accident, you may be entitled to financial compensation. With the help of an experienced snowplow accident attorney, maximum compensation could be attained for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
Snowplow Accident Causes
Just like any crash, snowplow accidents can have endless causes; however, there are certain factors that may be more likely to cause a snowplow accident. Common causes include:
Driving Too Fast
Because of their generous size, snowplows pose a greater risk than the average vehicle if the operator violates traffic laws and drives over the speed limit. When loaded with salt, a snowplow may weigh as much as 10 tons, making it particularly dangerous to pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists that may be hit by a snowplow. For this reason, snowplow operators should drive at a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour to navigate the road safely.
The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy know just how dangerous a speeding snowplow can be. They secured a $3,000,000 settlement for an individual rear-ended by a snowplow that was going at least 40 MPH when the accident occurred. Although this is only 5 miles-per-hour over the recommended speed limit for snowplows, it made a dramatic difference for the plaintiff who was sent across three lanes during the accident and suffered multiple life-altering injuries. Snowplow drivers must operate at the recommended speeds to avoid causing catastrophic injuries to others.
Most large trucks have some blind spots simply due to their size; however, snowplows operators also experience blind spots from the snow they brush to the side and behind them. Moreover, snowplows often operate late at night or early in the morning—when visibility is reduced. For these reasons, the snowplow operator must be particularly vigilant when driving.
Becoming a snowplow operator requires special training that depends on each state’s regulations. If an employer has failed to provide proper training for snowplow operators, they may pose a risk to other drivers on the road by engaging in dangerous behavior such as speeding, failure to check blind spots, or improper use of safety measures. Many snowplows employ safety measures such as bright, colored lights to alert other drivers to their presence. Snowplow drivers must be properly instructed to use safety measures such as these to ensure the safety of all drivers on the road.
Snowplow Accident Injuries
Like any car accident, a snowplow accident can inflict a wide variety of injuries to those involved. However, snowplows pose a particular danger in that they are large and navigate the road in atypical ways such as making wide turns, stopping frequently, and travelling in more than one lane. For this reason, many serious injuries may result from a snowplow accident, including:
- Death: Since snowplows are so large and heavy, an accident can result in fatal injuries. For instance, if a snowplow pushes a vehicle into another lane of traffic or another object, the driver and passengers in the other vehicle could incur injuries to vital organs that may result in death.
- Traumatic brain injury: If a driver is struck by a snowplow and hits their head against their head rest, steering wheel, or any other object, they could suffer from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). A TBI might cause subtle symptoms such as a headache or memory loss, or severe symptoms such as loss of motor function or decreased neurological function.
- Spinal cord injuries: Spinal injuries are a risk in any car accident due to the movement of the body during a crash. Depending on where the injury occurs and how severe it is, a spinal cord injury can result in loss of mobility or even paralysis.
- Broken or fractured bones: The impact of a snowplow on a smaller vehicle, pedestrians, or cyclists can have severe effects and may result in a driver’s limbs being crushed or hit by their vehicle or other objects. This could result in broken or fractured bones which can be expensive and time-consuming to heal.
Liability in Snowplow Accidents
Multiple parties may be found liable in a snowplow accident. Most often, snowplows are operated by the city government where the accident took place; in this case, the city may be held liable for the accident. In other cases, private companies or individuals may operate their own snowplows and thus may also be found liable for snowplow accidents. The majority of snowplow accident cases fall under commercial vehicle law. If an accident occurs due to the negligence of the driver of a commercial vehicle, the company that owns the vehicle could be liable for damages owed to the driver and others involved in the accident.
Snowplow owners—whether the state or a private entity—are especially likely to be found liable in cases where the cause of the accident was improper training or vehicle malfunction. Sometimes, individuals turn trucks or cars into snowplows and could be found personally liable.
In some cases, the snowplow operator may be found liable for the crash, for example, if the driver was not adhering to traffic rules or guidelines provided by their employer. However, it is unlikely the driver would be found personally liable due to a legal principle called vicarious liability, which states that if a worker was “on the job,” their employer may be found liable for the accident.
Filing a Lawsuit in Snowplow Accidents
As with any car accident, it is important to notify your insurance company of the crash and file a claim with them. In municipal snowplow accidents, you may also want to file a lawsuit against the city or state in which the accident occurred. You will need to determine whether the snowplow is run by the city government, state government, or another local municipality.
You will want to submit your claim as soon as possible, because most municipalities require that you file a lawsuit within a certain period following the crash. The city or state will then review your claim and either pay your damages, negotiate a settlement, or deny your claim. If your claim is denied, you can then sue your local government agency through a small claims court. To get more information on local procedures for filing a lawsuit, consider contacting an experienced lawyer.
Case Study: $3 Million for Driver Rear-Ended by Snowplow
Our client, a 36-year-old truck driver, was stopped at a red light in Brooklyn on a clear road. As the light turned green, our client was beginning to pull forward and turn left. Before he could make his turn, a city-owned snowplow hit our client’s vehicle from behind. The driver of the snowplow failed to signal to the driver that it was plowing by using sound indicators or turret lights. Later, the driver confirmed that he was, in fact, not plowing the roads, but was actually on his way to return the plow and end his shift.
After being rear-ended at 40 miles per hour, our client’s car flew across three lanes of traffic, only stopped by two poles. Due to the force with which our client was struck, he suffered severe knee and back injuries, including a fracture to his C5 vertebral body. These serious injuries prohibited our client from returning to his career as a truck driver, as he could no longer sit, stand, or walk for extended periods of time. His medical team estimated that he would need both a full-knee replacement and spinal fusion surgery.
Our client was awarded $3,000,000 in a winning verdict achieved by founding partner Jeffrey A. Block.
Top Verdicts & Settlements in Motor Vehicle Accidents
If you are considering filing a lawsuit for a snowplow accident, it’s in your best interest to seek legal counsel. The auto accident lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy offer free consultations to accident victims and have served residents in both New York and New Jersey. Select results in commercial vehicle accident cases include:
- $14,000,000 settlement for a motorcyclist who had his leg amputated after being hit by a car turning left
- $13,500,000 settlement for a pedestrian who suffered a brain injury after she was hit by a company-owned car in Long Island
- $9,950,000 settlement for a 28-year-old social worker who was struck by a commercial van and had to have her left leg amputated
- $9,263,326 jury verdict in Brooklyn case for a taxicab passenger who suffered serious injuries due to a three-car collision
- $8,800,000 settlement for a 53-year-old pedestrian who was hit by a van, resulting in a traumatic brain injury
- $7,525,000 settlement in a wrongful death case for the family of a mother and her son who were involved in an accident with a commercial van
- $6,000,000 settlement for a city bus passenger who was involved in an accident with a flatbed truck and suffered injuries that required multiple surgeries
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a snowplow accident, the lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy are here to provide you with expert legal advice. Call 212-736-5300 or use our contact form for a FREE consultation.