When you live in North Dakota, you know that driving in the snow is a way of life. You also know that at some point, you will be sharing the road with snowplows. You likely even have a plow attachment of your own to dig out your property.
But just because you are used to a thing does not mean there are no hazards. January has already seen one snowplow accident, where a semi-truck crashed into the plow over on I-94 in Jamestown. The trucker was from Minnesota (though we should not hold that against him) and thankfully, no one was hurt. But the incident is hardly an isolated one, and we thought it may be time to talk about road safety when it comes to snowplows.
Safely sharing the roads with snowplows in North Dakota
One way to stay safe while driving near snowplows is to slow down and follow at a distance. When it is safe you can pass them – it is legal to pass a moving snowplow, though it is not recommended – or wait until they pull off. Snowplows weigh thousands of pounds and due to this fact they can cause substantial damage if they are involved in an accident with another vehicle or pedestrian.
You should know that if a snowplow is pulled over with its lights flashing, you are required to move over and give it space. Not only does this make it safer for the plow drivers, but it makes it safer for you. As the North Dakota Department of Transportation explains, plows “have wing blades that stick out 10 feet to the left or right which may not be visible because of blowing snow.”
Other ways to stay safer include:
- Not driving. If the roads aren’t cleared yet, stay home. Even if you have the “best” snow tires or truck, you should avoid getting on snowy roads unless you absolutely have to do so.
- Using your hazards. If you must travel in poor weather, put your four-way hazards lights on. This can make you more visible to other drivers, including plows, on the road.
- Going slow. Speeding is dangerous enough under good conditions. If the plows are out, it means the roads are snowy, icy, and dangerous, and that means speed limits are likely reduced. Make sure you follow the signs.
What are the causes of snowplow accidents?
A snowplow accident in North Dakota can happen for any reason. It has been found that most snowplow accidents happen due to poor judgment and inattention. Other common reasons Include:
Snowplow drivers have several blind spots, and if a vehicle enters ones of those blind spots, an accident can happen. Even if you are not in the vehicle’s blind spot, the snow will reduce visibility, making it hard for plow drivers to see you.
Poor visibility is one of the reasons why North Dakota made the switch from yellow lights to blue lights on its plows in 2020. This change is designed to catch drivers’ attention while on the road during snowstorms. Blue was used because drivers have seemingly become accustomed to seeing yellow lights all around them. The blue commands attention more easily.
These vehicles are big and heavy, and they cannot stop as fast as lighter passenger vehicles. Added to this, of course, is the risk of sliding on compacted snow or ice. This does not mean that snowplow drivers cannot be held liable if they cause an accident due to their own negligence, but you should be aware of the risks.
Be cautious of where you park when snowplows are clearing the streets. Not only could you be trapped inside your vehicle, but you may be hit by the plow. Street plowing is especially dangerous for pedestrians and for children who are playing in the snow. Make sure your little ones stick to the yard or local parks, and teach them never to go near a moving plow.
Who is liable after a snowplow accident?
Liability in a snowplow accident can be complex. There may be several parties that can be held liable for a snowplow accident including the driver, a private entity or a government entity. Filing a claim against a contractor or private company and a public entity are two very different processes, and you should seek the assistance of a Minot snowplow accident attorney.
Suing a public entity in North Dakota
When a snowplow is owned or operated by a government entity, there are different timelines for filing a case. There are also different rules because government workers are protected from lawsuits because states have sovereign immunity in many civil claims. However, this does not mean the entity that hires these drivers cannot be held liable for acts of negligence. If you can show that your injuries were the result of a negligent snowplow driver, then you may be able to file a claim for damages. (Bulman v. Hulstrand Construction).
Filing a claim against a commercial snowplow company
Filing a claim against a commercial company also requires proving negligence. This can be caused by driver behavior or lack of safety features installed. Maintenance standards must also be met as this is another contributing factor that can cause an accident. If you are involved in a snowplow accident and have sustained injuries, you may be entitled to damages. You will be able to file a personal injury claim that can cover the following:
- Medical bills related to the accident
- Lost income
- Pain and suffering damages
- Transportation to and from medical appointments
- Property damage
In some cases, the victim may not survive a snowplow accident. If this happens, the family can file a wrongful death claim.
If you have been involved in a snowplow accident, the experienced Minot truck accident attorneys at Larson Law Firm can fight for compensation on your behalf. Call our office at 701-484-HURT, or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation in Minot, Fargo, or Bismarck.
Mark Larson is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Civil Pre-Trial Specialist focusing on personal injury, motor vehicle, wrongful death, and oil field claims. Since 1979, Larson Law Firm has served the injured throughout North Dakota. Read more about Mark V. Larson