With the recent snow and ice on the roads in Georgia, there have been numerous multi-vehicle crashes including one involving 27 cars. The question arises; who is going to pay for all the property damage and injury claims? I have already been asked this questions several times so we will review the issue today. We will break the topic into two parts; first addressing normal crashes involving ice and black ice in Georgia and second, addressing multi-vehicle collisions.
If you are involved in a car accident in Georgia and ice played a role, just accept the fact that it will be an ugly process. A typical scenario with the recent snow in Atlanta involves one car hitting a patch of black ice and going into a spin or suddenly coming out of their lane and causing a crash. In many of the these situations, the drivers insurance company may refuse to pay for your property damage, claiming that the ice was an “act of God” for which their insured cannot be blamed. To this I say “B.S.” You have to live in a cave not to know that its snowing and sub zero out and that ice is on the roadways. When that happens you have to drive with exceptional care. The Georgia law on driving with ice on the road is OCGA § 40-6-180 which says in part that you have to drive at a speed that is safe for conditions.
You cannot “drive [your] vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing. Consistently with the foregoing, every person shall drive at a reasonable and prudent speed when approaching and crossing an intersection or railroad grade crossing, when approaching and going around a curve, when approaching and traversing a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway, and when special hazards exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.” OCGA § 40-6-180
If there is black ice on the roadway, that can mean as slow as 5 mph. In some of these situations, the black ice forms because a person or business allows water to flow out onto the street and it freezes overnight. In those situations, it is reasonable to present the repair bill to the business or person as it is foreseeable that the fluid will freeze. The final and most complex type of case involves suits against the Georgia Department of Transportation if they engineered the roadway with dips in it that allow water to collect and freeze. For an illustrative case involving a driver who crashed on ice and could not prove that a road contractor deviated from a well engineered road, see Adams v. Apac-Georgia, Inc., 236 Ga. App. 215, 511 S.E.2d 581 (1999)
Here is an appellate case involving ice at a stop sign. Gibson v. Carter 248 Ga. App. 280, (2001). If you maintained control and were struck by a driver who lost control, either submit the property damage claim to your own insurer and let them go after the other driver or take the other driver to magistrate court if their insurance refuses to pay.
Turning to the multi-vehicle collision cases, these are a nightmare in many senses. In the 27 car pile-up this week on the ramp at I-285 and I-85 in Fulton County, liability is going to be hard to determine. The insurance companies for the cars in the front of the crash will want to argue that the collision was unavoidable and is solely due to the black ice. Eventually though, they will tender their property damage limits due to the shear volume of claims they will be facing. Remember that most drivers in Georgia only have $25,000.00 in insurance for property damage so they will run out of coverage quickly.
The people in the middle of the crash that rear-ended stopped or wrecked vehicles are going to have a tough uphill climb to convince the other driver’s insurance company that they were not driving too fast for conditions themselves.
The folks to the rear may be in the best position depending on the way they were impacted.
Typically we see the insurance companies for the front-most vehicles surrendering their property damage policy limits and once those are exhausted, it is up to each person’s own collision coverage to pick up the repair bill. These crashes are a mess in every sense of the word. A skilled lawyer can pick their way through the police report as some individuals may have a claim to get their property damage repaired by another insurer, but it will be tough going.