A plow cleaning snow from a Brooklyn food market parking lot struck and killed a pregnant woman on February 13 as she was making her way into the store. Her baby boy was delivered by cesarean section and is in critical condition in a hospital.
The supermarket owned the Bobcat S250 that struck the woman while it was traveling in reverse. A witness reported the machine operator had been driving erratically in the parking lot. Earlier in the month, an elderly Brooklyn man was hit by a backhoe pushing snow near the entrance of an apartment complex in Brighton Beach. The plow was backing up when it struck the 73-year-old man who was rushed to a local hospital but could not be saved.
Snow removal is essential for businesses to operate and people to travel safely. But full-sized snow plows and salt spreaders are large, heavy and slow-moving. Snow plow drivers operate under adverse weather conditions. While New York does regulate operators of heavy equipment, often these drivers are called out to begin work during the night and stay throughout the day, making it difficult for them to get enough rest. In snowy and icy conditions, often during evening hours and before daybreak to avoid traffic, snow plow drivers work as fast as possible to clear the way for cars and pedestrians.
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The New York City Department of Sanitation has more than 3000 snow plowing routes covering 17,000 miles of roadway. Snow plows and graders clearing roads move in the same direction as traffic. But they move more slowly. When impatient drivers follow too closely, pass them, or cut in front of them without allowing enough space, they are setting themselves up for an accident. Motorists should use extreme caution around snow plows and assume the operator doesn’t see them.
During snow removal emergencies, the city of New York may contract with private companies to provide supplemental snow plow operators. Contract operators are required to be licensed and trained to operate the heavy equipment they are using. Accidents can occur when the driver has been overworked and is too fatigued to be able to work safely.
Smaller snow plows, often used on private property such as parking lots and private communities, are usually just pickup trucks with plow attachments. In many of these cases, these drivers are not regulated.
Victims of collisions with snow plows and trucks accidents– whether in a passenger vehicle or on foot – can sustain catastrophic injuries resulting in paralysis, a permanent impairment, or death.
Sometimes snow plow accidents occur due to operator inattention, including cell phone use. Alcohol or drug use, including prescription drugs, can contribute to a deadly snow plow accident. Sometimes snow plow owners fail to perform proper maintenance, allowing the plow to fall into a state of disrepair and causing it to malfunction or become a hazard.
Specific causes of accidents involving snow removal equipment include:
- Poor road conditions
- Air brake failure
- Highway accidents
- Blind spots
- Excess weight
- Distracted operator
- Excessive speed
- Operator fatigue
- Faulty vehicle or equipment
- Inexperienced operator
- Operating while impaired
Motorists and pedestrians can take steps to protect themselves by observing their surroundings and keeping away from snow removal equipment.
If you see a snow plow in front of you or the flashing amber light signaling work ahead, start slowing down. Drivers should give snow plows plenty of space.
When you pass a snow plow on the road, provide plenty of room. If you pull back into your driving lane too early, you risk clipping the plow blade with the back end of your car.
Don’t tailgate behind a snow plow. The plow could slow suddenly or stop if it comes up on a snow drift or a stalled car, causing you to rear end the plow if you are not paying attention.
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If you are injured in an accident with a snow plow, a personal injury attorney may bring a claim against the city or business employing the operator and/or owning the equipment. You may be entitled to seek compensation for your pain and suffering, medical bills, and lost wages. If you have lost a family member in a snow plow accident, a wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate to obtain justice.