A recent case out of Delaware County highlights a potential defense to a failure to control charge in Ohio. With the very icy and snowy weather we have been having lately, we are seeing many cases of clients facing failure to control charges after sliding on ice.

Generally, if you slide off the road and get into an accident, the court will likely conclude that you failed to maintain reasonable control.  However, one potential defense is the existence of a “sudden emergency.”  This exception has been recognized by the Ohio Supreme Court, although it may apply only in a narrow category of cases.

For example, in State v. Thomas, 2014-Ohio-319,  the defendant was driving his his pickup truck with a front snowplow on a two-lane road around 3:00 am.  His business was snow removal and he was working at the time.  The speed limit was 55 mph and he was driving between 25 and 30 mph.

However, a dump truck driving in the opposite direction with an oversized plow was “encroaching” onto the defendant’s lane.  The defendant moved to the right of his lane and two of his truck’s tires went off the road onto the grass.   After the other snowplow passed, he tried to turn left to reenter his lane.   He slid across the center line, went off the road, and crashed into an embankment and into a tree.

A trooper saw the defendant’s lights in the ditch and approached.   On the scene, the driver said he “overcorrected” and went off the left side of the road.  In his written statement, he also said he had “over [compensated].”   The trooper wrote him a ticket for failure to maintain reasonable control, a violation of R.C. 4511.202.  The trial court found him guilty and the defendant appealed.

On appeal, defendant argued that he was confronted by a sudden emergency not of his making and beyond his control.

The operation without reasonable control statute says:

“(A) No person shall operate a motor vehicle * * * on any street, highway, or property open to the public for vehicular traffic without being in reasonable control of the vehicle * * * “

Generally, driving into a ditch demonstrates a lack of reasonable control.  However, the Ohio Supreme Court has held that if the driver is the victim of a “sudden emergency,” his failure to comply is excused.   For example, courts have found that skidding on a wet or icy roadway is preventable by the driver.  Bad road conditions alone are not enough.   However, if there is a true emergency, the failure to control may be excused.

Here, the driver testified that he was aware of the snowy conditions and was driving carefully, that he moved to allow the other snowplow additional room, and that only when he brought his truck back onto the road did he veer into the embankment.

Nonetheless, his prior statement on the scene that he “overcompensated” while attempting to get back onto the roadway ended up being fatal.  The judge believed his statement at the scene rather than his statement on the stand and found that he did not face a sudden emergency that would excuse his loss of control.

Had he not made this statement on the scene, this might have been a different case.  If he truly was driving carefully for the snowy conditions and was pushed off of the road, there may have been a viable “sudden emergency” defense.

If you have been charged with failure to control and would like to contest the charge, call our office to speak with a Columbus traffic attorney.

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