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The Slippery Roads Defense in Virginia


Motor vehicle accidents are serious matters that can result in expensive litigation and other legal consequences. Virginia law provides a “slippery roads defense” for individuals involved in motor vehicle accidents when the driver used care and caution in the operation of their vehicle proportionate to the known and obvious dangerous conditions of the road. The slippery road defense can be critical in the winter when ice forms on Virginia’s roads.


In a civil case for damages flowing from an automobile accident, the party bringing the claim has the burden to prove that the defendant was negligent in their driving. “Mere proof that a motor vehicle skidded on a slippery highway does not establish the operator’s negligence per se, but skidding is a circumstance to be considered along with all the other evidence in determining whether negligence has been proved.”[1] Slippery road cases present a factually heavy inquiry into the events that directly preceded the accident. “When there is ice on a hard-surfaced highway, drivers are charged with the duty to take care and caution in the operation of their vehicles proportionate to the known and obvious dangerous condition of the highway.”[2]

Explanation of the Law

In slippery road cases, the principal inquiry focuses on the operator’s conduct prior to the skidding to determine if the skidding resulted from the operator’s negligence or the road conditions.[3] Therefore, slippery road cases hinge on the events directly leading up to the accident. The law in skidding cases examines whether the driver exercised an ordinary degree of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised under the same circumstances.[4] A driver must exercise increased caution when faced with known and obvious dangerous road conditions.[5]

In Virginia, whether a driver’s negligence caused the car to skid is generally a jury question.[6] However, negligence in skidding cases can be a question of law for the court to decide. The court will determine if the skidding was caused by the driver’s negligence only when reasonable minds could not differ and “one, and only one, conclusion, as a matter of law, is warranted.”[7]


The slippery roads defense can be used in Virginia when motor vehicle accidents result from a car sliding on rainy, snowy, or icy roads.  Car accidents can be expensive and stressful, resulting in costly litigation, civil damages, or even criminal penalties. Individuals involved in these accidents may not fully understand their legal defenses. If someone thinks that slippery roads caused their accident, they should consult an attorney.


Individuals with concerns about motor vehicle accident claims can speak with an attorney at Briglia Hundley, P.C., by calling 703-883-0880.


[1] Medlar v. Mohan, 242 Va. 162, 165, 409 S.E.2d 123, 125 (1991); Pullen v. Fagan, 204 Va. 601, 604, 132 S.E.2d 718, 721 (1963); Whitley v. Patterson, 204 Va. 36, 38, 129 S.E.2d 19, 21 (1963); Crist v. Coach Company, 196 Va. 642, 650, 85 S.E.2d 213, 217 (1955).

[2] 5A Am. Jur., Automobiles, etc., § 342, p. 441. See alsoWebb v. Smith, 176 Va. 235, 239, 10 S.E.2d 503, 504, 131 A.L.R. 558 (1940).

[3] Medlar, 242 Va. at 165, 409 S.E.2d at 125; Pullen, 204 Va. at 604, 132 S.E.2d at 721; Whitley, 204 Va. at 38, 129 S.E.2d at 21.

[4] Medlar, 242 Va. at 165, 409 S.E.2d at 125.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.; Meador v. Lawson, 214 Va. 759, 762, 204 S.E.2d 285, 288 (1974); Pullen, 204 Va. at 604, 132 S.E.2d at 721; Whitley, 204 Va. at 39, 129 S.E.2d at 21.

[7] Meador, 214 Va. at 761-62, 204 S.E.2d at 287 (quoting Allen v. Brooks, 203 Va. 357, 361, 124 S.E.2d 18, 21-22 (1962)).