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Snowplows in New York are Immune from Liability for Accidents Caused by Vehicle & Traffic Law Violations

It may seem odd to hear that New York law permits snowplows to violate just about every rule of the road contained in the New York Vehicle & Traffic Law, except for drunk driving, when plowing on public roads. However, that is a fact.

Vehicle & Traffic Law §1103(b) states that the rules of the road "shall not apply" to snowplows while engaged in snowplow operations.

This immunity from the rules of the road means that snowplows can run red lights and stop signs; make illegal turns and exceed speed limits while plowing. The idea behind giving snowplows immunity from the rules of the road is to give them more flexibility when dealing with snow removal generally and winter storm emergencies specifically.

However, immunity from the rules of the road also means that snowplows are not at fault when a violation occurs by a the snowplow that causes a motor vehicle or pedestrian accident resulting in injuries.

Generally, a violation of one of the rules of the road by a vehicle that results in an accident is proof of negligence by that vehicle. That is not the case with snowplows per V&TL §1103(b).

The only exception to the grant of immunity provided to snowplow operators by V&TL §1103(b) is when the conduct of the snowplow operator is judged to be "reckless".  There is a huge difference between proving the much easier negligence standard that is normally used to determine fault in a motor vehicle or pedestrian accident and the far more difficult "reckless disregard" standard that is set out in V&TL §1103(b).

Whereas negligence is generally defined as failing to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, reckless disregard is deliberate decision to ignore a likely harm.

Suffice it to say that the reckless standard is a much more difficult burden of proof for individuals trying to hold snowplow employers accountable in civil actions for accident related injuries.

All of this is not to say that we should anticipate snowplows to roar past stop signs and stop lights. Generally, snowplows are going to obey the rules of the road during operations.

However, when they do make a mistake, such as roll through a stop sign and cause an accident, the law gives them immunity whereas if an automobile were to do the same, it would be liable for the resulting injuries.

The take-away is to be vigilant when driving near snowplows. Give yourself extra time to adjust to their movements. Give them some extra space and above all, exercise additional patience.

To contact us about a motor vehicle or truck accident case, please complete an online intake form or call us at (888) 997-4110 for a free consultation.