Who’s Responsible for Repairs if a Snow Plow Damages Your Property in Indiana?
Indiana has seen its fair share of winter precipitation this winter. At some point since the season began nearly every square mile of the state has received various amounts of snow, sleet, freezing rain, and sometimes a mix of all three which has kept Indiana Department of Transportation snow plow drivers busy. While their efforts are greatly appreciated, as many of them work throughout the day and night doing their best to clear the roads and make driving a little safer for the rest of us when Mother Nature decides to get a little frosty, they are human and accidents can happen. So, who's on the hook for repairs if one of those accidents happens to your personal property?
Snow Plow + Mailbox = Bad Day to Be a Mailbox
One of the most common incidents involves a snow plow meeting your mailbox. As a driver is making their way down a street, they may inadvertently get a little too close to the edge of the road leading to the plow either clipping or completely smashing into, your mailbox which, depending on the severity, could put a noticeable dent in it, break the post, or knock it totally out of the ground.
Another possibility that could happen is damage to your car sitting in your driveway due to snow and ice chunks being hurled into the air by the plow. A quick side story, if I may, which will be relevant to the topic.
When I was a kid, we lived in the western part of Vanderburgh County where the transportation department never bothered to plow our barely two-lane road. Except for one year. My brother and I were in the front yard playing in the snow when I saw a plow coming down the road. It was chucking a rooster tail of what, from a distance, looked to be snow from the road into the ditch. My brother and I, the geniuses that we were, thought it would be fun to stand closer to the road and get washed down in what we thought was soft snow. But, as the plow got closer, it became clear it wasn't just snow flying through the air. There were decent-sized chunks of ice mixed in with it. By the time we made the realization, it was too late. We couldn't run away quickly enough, so we dove onto the ground face-down, put our hands behind our heads like a tornado drill at school, and were pelted in the back with ice chunks for a second or two. Luckily, we both had on enough layers of clothing, plus coats, to cushion the pelting we got that we didn't get hurt.
Now, imagine that instead of two stupid young boys, it's your car, sitting in your driveway on your personal property in the path of that ice wave. Chances are, and I'm speculating here, those ice chunks are going to make a few dents, or possibly crack a window on your vehicle.
Who's Responsible for the Repairs?
The Indiana Department of Transportation acknowledges that accidents can happen on its website and instructs residents to fill out a Tort Claim Notice which is a form you fill out to try and collect the money needed for the repairs to fix whatever was damaged on your personal property.
Does that mean the state will cover whatever damage was caused by the plow? Not necessarily. All submitted notices are reviewed by the tort investigations unit at the state's Attorney General's office, and the form itself states that in addition to the claim notice you should provide, "photographs and any additional documentation" if applicable. Basically, they're going to want more than you saying it's their fault. They're going to want photographic evidence of the plow at fault for the damage.
The form also states residents have 270 days after the damage takes place to file a notice for review.
With that said, cities and counties may have different laws in place for any damage caused by a snow plow. For example, the website for the South Bend city government has an entire page dedicated to damage from city plows which says:
Please keep in mind that during snow removal operations, snow pushed by city snow plows may come into contact with private property. Upon report of damage by a city snow plow, city personnel will perform an inspection to determine the cause of the damage. If it is determined that the snow plow struck the item or area, repairs will be made as soon as possible. If it is determined that a snow plow did not strike the item or area and it was caused by snow rolled by the plow, repairs will be the responsibility of the resident.
If a snow plow does cause damage to your personal property, your best bet is to contact your county or city's transportation department to alert them to the damage and discuss what the procedure is for having them cover the cost of any repairs or replacements that need to be made. But, be prepared to have to cover those costs yourself.
[Sources: INDOT / South Bend 311]