Accidents Due to Weather Conditions
Rain, Ice, Wind, Floods, Fog and Other Road Hazards
There is an old saying in Texas, “If you don’t like the weather wait five minutes and it will change.” It is a saying not original to Texas and often attributed to Mark Twain. Regardless, it is often pretty accurate. Texas is such a large state that the weather can be drastically different in one part than the rest. More specifically, Texas has everything including tornadoes, floods, hail, sleet, snow, black ice, hurricanes, heavy rains, and fog that affect driving.
Thus, if you are going to drive in Texas, you need to be prepared for weather to be a factor that you must deal with on the roads. Accidents due to weather conditions can make navigating a claim very difficult. Call (713) 932-0777 for more information today.
Driving Rules Remain in Effect
As a general rule, the Rules of the Road do not get suspended because the weather is bad. As a driver, you have an obligation to yourself and others to be prepared and act with ordinary prudence when dealing with dangerous weather conditions. However, just because the speed limit sign reads “55” does not mean that 55 miles per hour is a safe speed in inclement weather. You can be ticketed for failure to control speed even though you are driving under the posted speed limit, if the speed you are traveling is not safe under the circumstances.
Legal Defenses to Negligence for Accidents Due to Weather Conditions
There are certain legal doctrines that affect whether a person is considered negligent or not when confronted with dangerous weather conditions. If you are in an accident in dangerous weather, you may find yourself in a situation where the adjuster is denying your claim even though you did nothing wrong. Some of these doctrines include:
- Unavoidable Accident
- Sudden Emergency, and
- Act of God.
Below is a discussion of these legal defenses and the types of cases that you may find a defense lawyer asserting these in.
An unavoidable accident is defined as “an event not proximately caused by the negligence of any party to it.” Dallas Ry. & Terminal Co. v. Bailey, 250 S.W.2d 378, 385 9Tex.1952). As explained by the Texas Supreme Court, “the instruction is most often used to inquire about the causal effect of some physical condition or circumstance such as fog, snow, sleet, wet or slick pavement, or obstruction of view, or to resolve a case involving a very young child who is legally incapable of negligence.” Reinhart v. Young, 906 S.W.2d 471 (Tex.1995).
The unavoidable accident instruction is about as close as a comment on the weight of the evidence as the Court may get. It is effectively a way of reminding the jury that Texas is a negligence state and not every accident is caused by someone’s negligence. If a person is doing everything that an ordinary prudent person would under the same circumstances and an accident occurs in spite of this, that person is not responsible.
One should keep in mind that just because there is fog, snow, sleet, water or ice on the pavement does not mean that everyone is automatically relieved of responsibility. Drivers still have a duty to reduce their speed, keep safe distances, pay attention and take necessary precautions to control their vehicles in inclement weather conditions. A lawyer faced with this defense needs be proactive in questioning the defendant about what precautions he took to avoid losing control of his vehicle.
A sudden emergency is defined as:
- an emergency situation arose suddenly and unexpectedly;
- the emergency situation was not proximately caused by the negligent act or omission of the person whose conduct is under inquiry; and
- after an emergency situation arose that to a reasonable person would have required immediate action without time for deliberation, the person acted as a person of ordinary prudence would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.
Thomas v. Oldham, 895 S.W.2d 352, 360 (Tex.1995). This defense is also sometimes used when a sudden unexpected event like a tornado, heavy gust of wind, sudden hail storm or other unforeseen event arises without warning and causes an accident.
Act of God
An act of God is an event occasioned exclusively by the violence of nature. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Williams, 378 S.W.2d 110, 113, (Tex.Civ.App.—Amarillo 1964, writ ref’d n.r.e.). The act of God defense is not often used nor warranted in auto collision cases. However, it does at times come up when a storm arises such as a hurricane, tornado or winter ice storm that causes a condition leading to an auto accident. An example of this is McWilliams v. Masterson, 112 S.W.3d 314, (Tex.App.—Amarillo 2003, pet. den’d), wherein a herd of cattle broke through a fence and into the road due to a winter storm coming up over night and causing them to seek higher ground for safety.
Do Not Give a Statement
If you have been involved in an accident and the weather was a factor, you may very well get a call from the adjuster for the other party. That adjuster’s job is to set up a defense for his client. Do not give the adjuster a statement without consulting an attorney first. Many times we see unsuspecting victims of a car crash who, in trying to be helpful, give the adjuster a recorded statement wherein the adjuster tricks the person into setting up a weather defense for them.
Before you talk to the other party’s adjuster, talk to a lawyer who will look out for your interests. Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. offers free consultations regarding your auto accident case. (713) 932-0777.