According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, nearly 1.2 million weather-related car accidents occur every year. The result of those 1.2 million accidents was nearly 5,000 deaths and over 400,000 injuries.
Weather and road conditions can play a significant role in personal injury claims resulting from car accidents: They’ll affect how insurance companies and the courts determine liability, fault, and damage payments.
Our San Diego personal injury attorneys are here to shed light on four ways weather and road conditions can impact your car accident case. But first, let’s review how liability and fault are generally determined in car accident cases.
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The legal rules and regulations governing car accident cases vary from state to state. California is an “at-fault” state, meaning that the insurance companies involved investigate the accident and determine the percentage of fault of all involved parties.
For example, if the insurance companies decide that one driver is 70% at fault while the other was 30%, the driver who was found to be 70% at fault will carry the majority of the liability and likely be required to financially compensate the other with or without the help of their insurance coverage.
However, if both parties are found equally at fault (a 50-50 decision), both drivers will share the blame. The blame is not canceled out, and both drivers may be required to compensate each other equally.
You could argue that car accident case liability and fault are easier to establish when the accident occurs on a clear and sunny day. If, however, slippery roads and low visibility were present, things would become more complicated.
Here are a few examples of how bad weather and road conditions could affect your car accident case.
As a driver, you must display a “reasonable duty of care” on the roads. This means you must do what a reasonable person would to stay safe and secure while driving.
When bad road conditions and weather come into the picture, this duty of care expands: You could argue that a reasonable person, in bad weather conditions, would increase following distance, drive slower, avoid distractions (like texting and driving), and exercise other reasonable cautions.
You’re likely to be found more liable for a car accident in bad weather conditions if it can be proven that you did not exercise this extra care while driving.
While each driver’s driving and speeding habits are considered factors in a weather-related car accident case, there’s more to assigning liability than merely proving who was driving faster.
The physical state of each car will likely be studied: Do the headlights work properly? What about the windshield wipers? Was an all-wheel drive car involved? Were distractions at play, like texting and driving?
Whether traffic laws, lights, and signs were obeyed will also be weighed. Additionally, the tires of each vehicle will likely be inspected for negligence.
Bad road and weather conditions, like slippery highways and low visibility due to fog and rain, complicate the liability issue. Two drivers who were exercising extra caution likely hydroplaned simultaneously and collided.
If this does happen and the investigating police officers/insurance companies determine that the poor weather conditions were indeed the primary cause of the accident, neither driver may be liable for the other’s damages.
In such a case, neither party will receive compensatory damages or payouts from insurance companies and be responsible for taking care of their damages on their own.
Generally speaking, you are legally obligated to stay off the roads if the weather conditions are too bad. But this doesn’t mean that car accidents that are truly “accidents” don’t happen in bad weather.
However, due to neither driver being found liable for the accident, insurance companies will not be responsible for compensating the other party for damages.
This only happens when the insurance companies decide that the weather alone was responsible for the accident, not the negligence of one or both drivers involved. Assigning liability in a clear-cut way becomes far more difficult when other extraneous factors, like bad road conditions and poor visibility, come into play.
Additionally, as with any other type of car accident personal injury claim, you have the burden of proof as the plaintiff to prove that the accident was the direct cause of your injuries. This can be hard enough to handle in a typical car accident case, let alone one involving bad weather.
That’s why we recommend working with a San Diego car accident attorney to handle your case properly the first time.
Weather-related car accidents can complicate things, so don’t go it alone: Contact our experienced attorneys today for a free consultation. HHJ Trial Attorneys offers a free case review, so before deciding what to do, come and have a chat with us for some free advice and guidance.