The Minnesota Department of Transportation has asked for submissions to name snowplows through Jan. 22, 2021. Click Here To Name a Plow. Some of the names are Salter Mondale, Kent Brrrbeck, Lake Snow Be Gone, Darth Blader and Plow Bunyan. Mine is Plowy McPlow Face. Named after the famous Boaty McBoat Face.
As Minnesotans, we are all very familiar with snowplows. Whether it’s trying to pass a snowplow on the highway or simply whiteout conditions, accidents can happen. Fully equipped trucks weigh as much as 15 times more than an average car. As you can imagine, that is quite the weight disparity. This results in a substantial imbalance in weight which means that when there is a collision, the car stands no match to the snowplow. This results in massive forces being involved when there is a collision. Which results in substantial damage to a vehicle and a greater likelihood of injury. Even though this is the case; if a snowplow driver did something wrong or negligent, can they be held responsible?
As discussed before, the government and private companies are governed by different laws. The long and short of it is that, if it is a private company, they are expected to operate the plow in a responsible manner. They are not offered any type of protection by law and a claim is able to be made against them. The same is not true when the plow is operated by a municipality.
In Minnesota, although the law says that “every municipality” is liable for its torts, there are several immunities and exceptions to the rule. The main exceptions to the rule are somewhat complex and can be confusing.
Statutory Discretionary Immunity
This immunizes a municipality from “any claim based upon the performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty, whether or not the discretion is abused.” Now this sounds confusing but is best illustrated by the Minnesota Supreme Court when it said that the “decision as to whether a road should be plowed or whether plows should be deployed on any given date falls within the discretionary function because it is made at the planning level. The job of plowing itself, however, is an operational function because it is simple and definite.” Thus, the decision to plow and plan would be immune, while the plowing itself would not be protected.
Common Law Official Immunity
The Minnesota Supreme Court said that “a public official charged by law with duties which call for the exercise of his judgment or discretion is not personally liable to an individual for damages unless he is guilty of willful or malicious wrong.” Now there is no case completely on point, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals said in a case involving an injury sustained while gym class was being held outdoors instead of inside that the gym teacher was protected by official immunity. The reasoning behind that decision was that the teacher had to consider various factors, including the weather, ice conditions, and the availability of other facilities, and it was a judgment call not arising from fixed or designated facts. Think of the snowplow driver, they are constantly making decisions based on various factors and having to make a judgment call. This is where most snowplow cases fail
Statutory Immunity for Snow and Ice Conditions
Minn. Stat. § 466.03, Subd. 4 provides immunity from “any claim based on snow or ice conditions on any highway or public sidewalk that does not abut a publicly owned building or publicly owned parking lot, except when the condition is affirmatively caused by the negligent acts of the municipality.” Basically, if you slip and fall on a public sidewalk, you are out of luck. That also goes for if your car slips and hits something or a snowplow slips and crashes because of ice or snow.
A municipality has never been held liable for injuries sustained in a fall on newly formed glare ice although a municipality is liable if it negligently permits an accumulation of ice and snow to remain on a sidewalk for such a period of time that slippery and dangerous ridges, hummocks, depressions, and other irregularities develop there. This means that a city in addition to the above defenses has immunity as long as it takes precautions within a reasonable time. So even if a truck has plowed, salted and sanded, just because the ice caused an accident, it still has immunity.
As you can see these can be very fact specific cases and each case is different. Identifying the correct parties is key in any snowplow case. That’s why it is important to have an attorney look into your case. Eventhough it may seem as though you cannot fight city hall, there have been a number cases where we did and received a recovery. If you have been involved in an accident, feel free to contact us at 651-705-9098 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Drive safe.