When news reports talk about winter weather and highways, it’s an easy mental jump to visualize cars and trucks stopped in a jumble. Snow and ice are always a concern for Milwaukee drivers this time of year. No matter how careful a driver might be, an auto accident because of slippery road conditions can happen in an instant.

Drivers in another state found themselves stuck on a turnpike for hours during morning rush traffic. Alternating bare and frozen spots reportedly made traveling the highway hazardous. Over the previous night, a snowstorm dropped about a foot of snow in the area. Officials had routinely treated the road surface, and at about 6 a.m. the speed restrictions put in place during the storm were lifted.

According to reports, two pileups took place just after 8 a.m. They ended up involving dozens of vehicles and stopping traffic for about five miles in the eastbound lanes. A minimum of 30 people were injured and taken to local hospitals. Witnesses report that the roads were icy at the time, causing cars and tractor-trailers to spin out, crash into guardrails and hit other vehicles. The American Red Cross provided water, food and blankets to motorists left stranded in their vehicles.

Authorities said the decision to lift the speed restrictions was based on the road conditions reported by the state road crews at the time. The accident investigation will determine if conditions had changed after their evaluation. Drivers commenting to interviewers expressed surprise at the icy conditions. One man commented on other motorists driving at speeds of 65 or 70 miles per hour, far exceeding what he believed safe.

It is easy to imagine a similar scenario on Wisconsin interstate highways. Once the investigation is complete, those impacted by damage or injury will be able to assess whether seeking compensation for their losses is appropriate for medical expenses and/or repairs to damaged vehicles. Establishing liability in a complex circumstance will create the opportunity for victims to seek payment from those liable. Doing so may help with recovery and restoring property.

Journal Sentinel, “Trucks, dozens of cars crash on Pa. turnpike” Michael Rubinkam and Ron Todt, Feb. 14, 2014