Incoming! Despite Lack of “Ice Missile” Laws in Minnesota, Trucking Companies Still Potentially Liable for Negligence

If you are a resident of a northern state, the sight of ice and snow flying from the roof of moving vehicles is not unfamiliar. These incidents have the potential to cause severe injury or death to drivers. In a recent event on Highway 36 in Roseville, Minnesota, a chunk of ice flew off a tractor-trailer and hit the windshield of a nearby passenger vehicle. According to the Star Tribune, the passenger sustained only minor injuries. Similar incidents have been reported this winter on the East Coast after record snowfalls. Although some states have passed “ice missile” laws requiring drivers to clear snow and debris from the roof and hood of their vehicles, Minnesota has not. Nor are there any specific federal regulations requiring drivers to do so. Law enforcement officers do, however, have authority to issue citations if they believe the accumulation of snow or ice renders the equipment unsafe. See Minn. Stat. 169.47. Perhaps more significantly, a driver or trucking company who fails to clear away ice or snow could be held liable for ordinary negligence if debris from the vehicle causes an accident which a jury later determines was reasonably foreseeable. See Alaska Freight Lines v. Harry, 220 F.2d 272, 275-76 (9th Cir. 1955).

So, before hitting the road, make sure the snow is cleared off your hood and roof. And, if you are an employer, make sure your snow removal techniques do not violate workplace safety provisions. There are a number of methods for removing snow and ice from trucks that do not involve your drivers climbing onto the roof of their rigs!

For more information on this subject, or guidance on related issues, contact trucking lawyers Sheila Kerwin (612.305.7515 or skerwin@nilanjohnson.com) or Matthew Murphy (612.305.7710 or mmurphy@nilanjohnson.com).

About the Authors

Sheila Kerwin is a catastrophic injury lawyer who defends trucking companies and manufacturers against personal injury and product liability claims.  She also works with employers on workplace safety issues including investigations and litigation involving OSHA.

Matthew Murphy focuses his practice on the transportation and recreational products industries, defending companies against product liability claims and commercial litigation.