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Who is at Fault When Bad Weather Causes an Accident?

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

As far as insurance companies are concerned, the weather is never the cause of an automobile accident. You are—or another party.

According to the DOT, of the 5,891,000 vehicle crashes that occur each year in the United States, approximately 21 percent of them are weather-related (see source). And since driving is intrinsically hazardous in nasty weather, you might think that you would not be held liable for an accident that happens due to it. But insurance companies beg to differ.

This blog entry speaks to the issue with Q&As that include:

  1. Can weather be “at fault” for a car accident?

  2. What if the weather suddenly changes in the middle of a road trip?

  3. What if you must drive in hazardous weather conditions?

  4. How is liability determined in a weather-related accident?

  5. Can foul weather mitigate fault in an accident?

  6. What kinds of automobile insurance are there?

  7. What is a no-fault state?

  8. What is a single-car accident?

  9. Should you retain a car accident attorney for a weather-related accident?

  10. How much does it cost to hire a car crash attorney?

1. Can weather be “at fault” for a car accident?

No. Bad weather might be considered a contributing factor in a car accident (see Q.5). But if you are the driver of the vehicle that caused an accident, you cannot cite it as an excuse. You will be considered the at-fault driver and thereby liable for damages and injuries to others.

Goes the insurance industry logic: (1) You are supposed to stay off the roads during weather that is too hazardous to drive safely. (2) Your duty to avoid a collision is multiplied in bad weather.

Ergo, if you choose to drive when the weather outside is frightful, you bear full responsibility for yourself, your passengers, and any injuries and damages sustained by whomever you might crash into. (If multiple vehicles lose control and collide, depending on the circumstances, the respective drivers might only be held responsible for their own vehicle damages.)

In the case of a single-car accident, where you might file a claim against your own collision policy, your insurance company will likely consider your accident without regard to the circumstance that it happened during hazardous weather (see Q.6).

Rain, snow, ice, wind, or fog will not be the determining factor. Instead, your ability to control your car in such conditions will be the issue at hand. I.e., you had an at-fault incident, which is the favorite insurance industry excuse for raising the price of your collision premium, usually by 20 to 50 percent (see source).

We can anticipate your question:

2. What if the weather suddenly changes in the middle of a road trip?

Makes no difference. Guilty as charged. As far as the insurance industry is concerned, you should have been home watching television, sitting on your couch, with your car tucked safely in its garage.

If this does not sound consumer-friendly, remember that it is not supposed to be. Insurance companies are in the business of making money for insurance companies, and indemnifying you against Mother Nature does not fit their business model.

This is why you should confer with a car accident attorney whenever you have to deal with your insurance company or (especially) somebody else about a weather-related accident that involves significant property damage and/or personal injuries.

The insurance adjusters you deal with will be employees of the insurance company. They will be naturally predisposed to interpret the ambiguous language and legalese lurking in your insurance policy to their employer’s advantage—not yours.

You need an advocate, i.e. someone who is on your side: an experienced auto accident lawyer.

3. What if you must drive in hazardous weather conditions?

Consider, if you feel you have to drive in rotten weather to get somewhere for this or that crucial reason, even if it is just your grandmother’s birthday party, you are going to feel stressed. And stress, to say the least, is not a performance enhancer when it comes to steering a car.

You are a better driver when you are calm than if you were stressed about something. So, Mother Nature already has a leg up on you if she is dumping rain, sleet, snow, hail, or all of the above on your ride as your try to keep it between the edge lines.

So, if you can stay home, do so. That said:

You need to take extra precautions to avoid an accident during inclement weather. E.g., drive under the speed limit, take turns slowly, use your hazard lights (aka “flashers”), pull over if visibility is poor, etc.

Also, bear in mind that a car that is marginally safe to drive in clement conditions might become a boatload of trouble in nasty ones. Consider:

  • Worn rubber. Tires that are only adequate to keep you cruising down the road on a bright sunny day will become prone to hydroplane all over the place in the pouring rain. This means there will be a thin film of water between your tires and the road while you're cruising along, which is definitely not recommended.

  • Worn brakes. Brake shoes or discs with little “skin” left on them might stop you in time under normal circumstances. But water is a lubricant, so the effectiveness of brakes is diminished when they are wet. Where merely adequate brakes might manage to stop you before you hit the guy in front of you in a rainstorm, worn ones probably will not.

  • Malfunctioning lights. You certainly do not want to be caught without properly functioning headlights when the sky darkens and teeming rain ensues. Fix that headlamp now. Also, when skies blacken, you are going to want to use your hazard lights (aka “flashers) so that other vehicles can see you as you crawl down the road—particularly a speeding semi. Make sure they are working.

  • Bad windshield wipers. Cracked or brittle windshield wipers will cause streaking, which might only be an annoyance on nice days. But when rain, sleet, snow, fog, or the gloom of night are already interfering with your ability to see past the windshield, streaking only compounds the danger.

In sum, if you were to hydroplane into an intersection during a severe rainstorm, strike other vehicles, cause injuries to others, and it was found that your tires were bald, your brakes poor, your lighting defective, and your wipers are worn out, you would be practically begging to be found grossly negligent and deserving of punitive damages.

4. How is liability determined in a weather-related accident?

You cannot sue Mother Nature when a car accident is caused by bad weather. You need to determine the negligent party.

In any kind of car accident, negligence refers to instances wherein a driver fails to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances (see source). Although this might seem straightforward, it is open to interpretation when it comes to foul weather. Consider:

Where it is reasonable to drive the speed limit on a sunny day, it might be negligent to do so in rain. Or, where it might be considered standard practice to maintain one car length between you and the one ahead for each 10 MPH you are driving under normal circumstances, it is probably not enough in snow. Similarly, where it is okay to drive without headlights on a nice day, doing so might be considered negligent in fog.

Remember, even prudent drivers can find themselves in a car accident because of bad weather. Whether you are found to be the at-fault party or someone else, you should connect with a skilled auto accident attorney to protect your legitimate self-interests. Insurance companies look for excuses to raise your collision premium. In the case of multiple-car accidents, tort law is adversarial by design. You need someone who is on your side. Do not go it alone.

5. Can foul weather mitigate fault in an accident?

A driver is charged with a certain standard of care when operating a motor vehicle, which is defined as what a reasonable person would do in the same or similar situation. This is called—reasonably enough—the “reasonable person” standard.

If you have an accident in foul weather that causes property damage and/or injuries, and it is determined that any reasonable person would have reacted to conditions as you did, your degree of negligence might be mitigated.

For example, if the insurance company allows that the weather was 20 percent the cause of the accident, your liability would be reduced by that amount. (Here, it is obvious that the insurance company will not be erring on your side of the equation, and the advisability of having a car accident lawyer on your side is equally so!)

Conversely, you will most likely be found negligent if it is established that a reasonable person would have done something different. (E.g., you were speeding, distracted, intoxicated, reckless, or otherwise being a bad actor.)

Also considered: if it had been sleeting for hours and the roads were veritable ice rinks, then road conditions will likely be factored into the equation, lessening your degree of perceived negligence. But if roads were only slightly wet, such that any reasonable adult would have been able to navigate them safely, it would be a very long shot that you could the blame weather.

6. What kinds of automobile insurance are there?

In 38 states, auto insurance comes in three flavors, only two of which are pertinent to the present conversation (a and b):

a) Liability. If you have an accident and are assigned blame, damages will be awarded to the other party or parties through this policy. Liability insurance has two parts: Bodily injury covers medical expenses for those involved in the accident (but not you). Property damage covers the costs of repairing the vehicles and property of others involved in the accident (but not yours) (see source). Your premium will rise.

b) Collision. In the case of a single-car accident, this coverage helps cover costs to repair your vehicle regardless of fault. However, if you damaged someone else’s property (e.g. a smashed fence), that cost would be assigned to your liability policy (see above). Your premium will rise.

c) Comprehensive. This protects your car from things other than liability and collision, like theft, vandalism, fire, animal strikes, etc. Your premium will rise.

However, 12 states are so-called “no-fault states,” where the rules are different. (See Q. 7)

7. What is a no-fault state?

A so-called “no-fault state” is one in which you are required to purchase an insurance product called personal injury protection or PIP insurance. All drivers involved in an accident who live in these states are required to file a claim with their own respective insurance companies without regard to who caused it (see source).

However, in no-fault states, the issue of negligence can nonetheless come to the fore because of something called threshold conditions. I.e., when medical bills you accumulate due to a car accident exceed your financial coverage, and/or when the extent of injury caused by the accident is severe enough by some standard.

8. What is a single-car accident?

As you might guess, a single-car accident involves just one vehicle. In the simplest case, a person might hit something, like a tree or guardrail.

More dramatically, one might swerve to avoid something or someone, run off the road, and roll over, spin out, or otherwise lose control, causing damage and injuries to oneself and others.

Of course, foul weather increases the probability of such accidents, something your car accident lawyer will work hard to impress upon your insurance company, should a single-car accident happen to you.

9. Should you retain a car accident attorney for a weather-related accident?

Determining fault is an insurance agent’s main concern when reviewing a bad weather claim. Consider:

a) If he or she minimizes or chooses to ignore the fact that your accident occurred in a downpour, then the outcome will be the same as if the accident happened on a picnic‑perfect day with the sun all aglow. It is not the nasty weather upon which insurance agents focus, but how you allegedly performed in it.

b) Even if you were driving at a safe speed in icy conditions, doing everything by the driver’s education handbook, the insurance agent might still fall back on the “fact” that you should not have been driving in such conditions in the first place.

Thus, depending on the kind of accident, your collision and/or liability premiums will rise more prodigiously than is justifiable. The upshot? Lacking experienced help and guidance, the odds are stacked against you. You need a skilled auto accident lawyer to look out for your legitimate interests.

10. How much does it cost to hire a car-crash attorney?

If you have had an auto accident that you believe is attributable to hazardous weather, you have legal rights, and you are entitled to compensation for your injuries and damage to your vehicle.

Galindo car-crash attorneys charge no upfront or out-of-pocket fees. We are only paid a percentage of the compensation we are able to secure for you. So by working with Galindo Law, you incur zero financial risk.

Remember that proper compensation for pain and damages consequent to an auto accident is your right. You are not asking for charity. You deserve to be adequately compensated for your loss.

Or, if you prefer, email us.

And thank you for reading our blog!


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