I was doing my daily commute, as I've done for years, when I hit a patch of black ice and slammed into a parked car. My insurance company blames me and says the fault is all mine, even though the attending police officer didn't give me a ticket. I think the city should take some of the blame as this section of road was clearly not salted. Can you shed light on who is responsible? – Krista in Toronto
Whether you were blindsided by a winter whiteout or the sun's rays, the Ontario Insurance Act is pretty clear when it comes to blaming an accident on road or weather conditions: you can't.
"The degree of fault of an insured is determined without reference to the circumstances in which the incident occurs, including weather conditions, road conditions, visibility or the actions of pedestrians ..."
Similarly, just because a police officer doesn't charge you with a violation at the time of an accident, it doesn't mean you were not at fault – at least from an insurance perspective.
"In terms of whether or not a police officer charges you with a traffic violation, that might differ in weather conditions. If you rear-end someone in July, you may get a ticket for following too closely. If in January you do the same because of black ice, a police officer may see the patch and may not give you a ticket. But just because you don't get a ticket, you're not absolved from any fault from an insurance perspective," says Anne Marie Thomas, manager of sales and business development at InsuranceHotline.com.
Tempting though it may be to try to blame your municipal road works program, that doesn't typically hold water. "The insurance companies' position on the majority of weather-related accidents is that it doesn't matter. You are expected to maintain control of your vehicle in all road and weather conditions. Very rarely have I seen it turned around because of road conditions. Regardless of whether or not you hit black ice, you are still at fault from an insurance and a rating perspective," says Thomas.
In Toronto, the city's transportation services division have a pretty tight handle on the 5,600 kilometres of roads in their care; their winter operations program involves 1,600 personnel (approximately one-third are city staff, and two-thirds are contracted).
"We adhere to or exceed our minimum provincial maintenance standards for de-icing roadways, and clearing snow and ice off of roadways. In winter, we patrol our roadways and take responsive action when we determine the need to either place de-icing chemicals like road salt on the roadways, or if the snow is of sufficient depth, we plow the snow," says Peter Noehammer, a director of transportation devices with the City of Toronto.
"There are claims made by the public when there is some concern about conditions of the roadway, but I'd say they are very, very minimal. We do defend those claims quite rigorously and cite our diligence with respect to meeting or exceeding the minimum provincial maintenance standards for de-icing or plowing snow," adds Noehammer.
If you're not happy with your insurance company's decision, you have some opportunity for recourse. If you have an issue with a decision made by the underwriting department, or an issue with the adjustment of your claim, you can speak to the claims manager. If you don't find satisfaction there, each insurance company has an ombudsperson. Often they require written documentation about what happened with dates, times and the parties involved to investigate the incident. Failing that, you can turn to the General Insurance OmbudService of Canada.
It doesn't help you in this case, but to help avoid any further incidents and accidents, why not try taking a defensive driving course. Who doesn't like to practice doughnuts in a parking lot – with a trained professional at their side? Otherwise, during extreme winter weather, take transit or stay home: it may not be ideal, but it's far more appealing than the effect a blemished driving record may have on your insurance rates for the next few years.