The risk of icy roads in Maine during the winter season is very high. The average snowfall each year is about 85 inches throughout the state. As a result, accidents on snowy roads are difficult to avoid. What happens in the case of accidents on icy roads where an independent contractor or company entered into a contract to plow a town’s roads, but failed to do so?
In a 2007 case, an appellate court considered whether someone who had a contract with a town to plow the roads owes a duty of care to the public using the roads. The plaintiff in the case was the husband of a woman who had died in a car crash on a slippery road after a huge snowstorm.
The woman and her son crashed into a van, but only the woman died. The worker who was supposed to plow the roads was supposed to do so only when the snow accumulated to 1 1/2 inches. He was also supposed to clear away snow, slush and ice and offer three trucks to make sure the road maintenance happened regularly.
The worker was an independent contractor with his own insurance policies. His contract agreed to indemnify the town for negligently carrying out or failing to do his duties.
The man filed suit against the worker, the driver of the van, and the van driver’s employer. In his complaint, he claimed that the road was covered in snow and slush and hadn’t been sanded appropriately. He alleged that the worker was liable for his wife’s death because he hadn’t cleared the road. The worker cross-complained against the van driver and his employer.
The worker filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming he did not owe a duty to the woman to remove snow and ice from the road. The husband and the other driver opposed the motion, arguing the worker had voluntarily entered into a contract to plow and therefore owed a legal duty to the public to do so.
The husband settled with the van driver and his employer and they were dismissed from the case. The court granted the worker’s summary judgment motion against the husband. The trial court reasoned that the worker’s contract with the town didn’t give rise to a general duty to everyone who traveled on the road. It also concluded that the worker owed no independent general duty of care to keep the public safe. The municipality was required by law to keep the roads clear, and the slippery road was caused by the weather, not the worker’s failure to plow. The trial court granted the worker’s summary judgment motion.
The husband appealed on the grounds that, when the worker entered into a contract with the municipality, he assumed a duty of care to eliminate the hazard of snow on the road. If there was a duty, the issue was whether the worker met the standard of care for a snowplow contractor or breached his duty.
The appellate court explained that whether there was a duty is a question of law. It considered historical expectations related to reducing risks of winter weather, including the high risk of icy roads in Maine. In the past, the court had ruled that negligence actions related to winter weather were limited. Similarly in this case, the appellate court decided not to create liability for private parties like the worker who contracted to plow the roads. His obligation was to the town, which was immune from liability.
If you or a loved one is hurt or killed in an accident, you may need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney to help determine appropriate theories of liability under Maine law. At Briggs & Wholey, our knowledgeable attorneys are available to answer any questions you may have. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced advocate, please contact Briggs & Wholey, LLC at (888) 596-1099 or through our website today.
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