In York County, Virginia, a massive 75-car pileup happened on Interstate 64 on December 22, 2020. The accident caused injuries to fifty-one people. After an investigation, police determined the cause was black ice.
The accident in York County is a recent example of the dangers of black ice. However, black ice does not just cause extreme trouble on streets and highways. Black ice wreaks havoc on pedestrians as well. Once snow and ice accumulate, the possibility of an individual slipping and falling always increases. But at the same time, if the snow and ice’s clearing is not done correctly, it could backfire into dangerous black ice.
What Causes Black Ice?
A major cause of black ice is from the snow that is already on the ground that thaws and then refreezes. The thawing and refreezing are what causes black ice. It is clear in color, and it gets its name from how it looks on asphalt – dark with a clear glaze and incredibly slippery.
Who makes sure the public is protected against these potentially dangerous black ice conditions? Virginia lawmakers have several laws on the books when it comes to snowy conditions. Through the Virginia Code, rules ensure owners and landlords have a duty to remove the accumulation of snow and ice from walkways and sidewalks. These are restated in Virginia Civil Model Jury Instruction 24.030:
“A landlord has a duty to a tenant to use ordinary care to remove ice or snow from [outdoor entrance walks; steps; porches; stoops; parking lots] under his control within a reasonable time after the [snow; freezing rain] stops falling.”
Additionally, many of Virginia’s municipalities take it a step further and enacted specific codes that deal with the duty of others to remove snow/ice from public walkways.
Arlington County Code, Chapter 27 § 27-24 creates a duty to a homeowner to remove such snow or ice from public sidewalks. It states in part …“It shall be the duty of the owner, occupant or other person or entity in charge of any occupied property in the County which is adjacent to any public sidewalk to remove or cause to be removed snow or ice from the entire width of such sidewalk…”
Loudoun County has similar ordinances. Loudoun County Code, Chapter 1022.01, requires property owners to remove snow and ice from any sidewalks or walkways adjacent to their property.
When an owner or landlord breaches their duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition and fails to timely remove snow and ice from walkways, a person walking in that area can become seriously injured from slipping on uncleared black ice. If that happens, the injured party could have a personal injury action against the property owner, but this does not come without its hurdles.
Two common defenses for personal injury cases involving slipping on black ice in Virginia are denying liability and, alternatively, arguing that the injured person was contributorily negligent.
The first defense of denying liability is when a defendant denies any negligence on their own part. The defendant can argue that he or she acted reasonably given the situation—hired a snow removal service, shoveled, and/or salted their entire property. A defendant can take all these proper steps, but black ice can still form. The burden is placed on the injured party to prove that these precautionary steps were not enough.
The second common defense for slip and fall cases involving snow and ice is contributory negligence. Virginia follows a strict contributory negligence standard. If a party is injured through some negligence of their own, even the slightest bit, they cannot recover damages. This allows a defendant in a slip and fall case to argue that the injured person was also negligent if he or she was aware of the snowy/icy conditions where they were walking and continued to walk that path anyway. If a jury believes this to be the case, the injured party cannot recover. Denying liability and asserting that the injured party was contributory negligent are difficult hurdles to overcome and can often prove fatal to many slip and fall cases.
It is also very difficult in Virginia to be successful in a personal injury case involving motor vehicles when black ice is involved. Virginia has a model civil jury instruction that applies to motor vehicles that skid on slippery roads that cause an accident. We have explained the difficulties in handling motor vehicle cases when a slippery road is a contributing factor to a crash in our blog post, specifically dealing with this issue.
Black ice is a hazard to both cars and pedestrians alike. It can lead to a multi-car pileup or a slip and fall that causes serious injuries. It is important to properly remove snow and ice from any walkways to prevent such hazards. Roadways are a different story since it is not usually within a person’s control. Remember, drive at a safe, slow speed when there is a chance of ice being on the road. All it takes is one patch of black ice to cause a 75-car pileup.
If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident related to ice and snow, call or text Curcio Law at 703-836-3366, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.curciolaw.com.
Justin Curcio joined Curcio Law in January 2020. Justin received his J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law in 2015. After passing the Virginia Bar in 2015, Justin was in-house counsel for an insurance defense firm (Allstate/Esurance/Encompass) for over four years before joining Curcio Law. During law school, he worked for the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the law firm of Bartlett, McDonough & Monaghan, LLP. Contact Justin at email@example.com.