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Updated by Greg Lyon on Nov 28, 2018
Headline for How Does Weather Influence My Ability to Effectively Bring a Lawsuit?
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How Does Weather Influence My Ability to Effectively Bring a Lawsuit?

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident in poor weather conditions, you may be entitled to significant compensation for your losses. Arizona law gives you a right of action for damages if your injuries were caused by the negligence or wrongful misconduct of another party. Poor weather conditions can influence your injury lawsuit in a number of unique ways. Below are some of the most commonly encountered issues.


Third Party Possessor May Be Liable for Road Conditions

In many cases, it is not merely the defendant-driver who is liable for an accident (and subsequent injuries), but also a third-party possessor of land, such as the City or a private landowner. Weather conditions must be accounted for by landowners. For example, if you are driving down a private road that features a hidden dirt slope, and it has been raining very heavily, causing the dirt to loosen and become a hazard, you could ostensibly sue and recover damages from the landowner for failing to warn of the hazard (or failing to correct the hazard) in the event that you sustain injuries.


Extreme Caution Must Be Exercised

When weather conditions are extreme, drivers must exercise extreme caution to ensure that an accident does not occur. For example, if you’re driving during an intense hailstorm that is limiting visibility and breaking windows, then you (and others on the road) should either find a safe place to stop their car and wait out the hailstorm or should drive extremely slowly so as to ensure that a high-speed collision is simply impossible.

Failure to modify one’s behavior during extreme weather conditions can expose the defendant to substantial civil damages liability.


Comparative Fault Issues

Arizona is a pure comparative fault state. What this means, essentially, is that you can secure damages in a lawsuit even if you were 99 percent at-fault for your own injuries. All you have to do is show that the defendant is at least 1 percent at-fault for your injuries — though it’s worth noting that your damages will be reduced in proportion with the total fault attributable to the defendant(s). For example, if the defendant is only 50 percent liable for your injuries, then you can recover 50 percent of the total damages.

In poor weather conditions, comparative fault is often a central issue in the case. The defendant will likely argue that you were involved in the accident due to your own acts of negligence and will attempt to shift more “blame” to you, thus minimizing their liability. If you were driving at an excessive speed given the weather conditions, for example, then you may be found substantially liable for causing your own injuries.


Sudden Emergencies May Grant a Liability Shield

As an injured plaintiff, it’s important to understand that the defendant may avoid liability in a number of ways. One of the most common defenses — particularly in circumstances involving poor weather conditions — is the “sudden emergency” defense. If the defendant-driver maneuvered in such a way as to cause you injuries, but they only did so in order to reasonably avoid harm in a “sudden emergency,” then you cannot hold them liable for damages.

How does this work?

Suppose that you are driving behind a car on the highway during heavy rains when, suddenly, the car comes to a complete stop, causing you to swerve to avoid a rear-end collision. You end up flipping over and injuring yourself. During the lawsuit, the defendant attempts to avoid liability by arguing that a piece of the cliff-face next to the highway had broken off and slammed into the road in front of their car, forcing them to stop to avoid harm. Under such circumstances, the defendant could avoid liability.


Employer Liability

In Arizona, as in other states, you may be able to hold the employer independently liable for injuries caused due to their own contribution of fault — for example, if an employer hires a known alcoholic to make deliveries on their behalf, then the employer could be held liable for the injuries caused by a subsequent drunk driving accident (occurring within the course and scope of employment).

This same application of liability works in the context of poor weather conditions. If an employer is aware that conditions on the road are extremely hazardous, but sends out a driver anyway, then the employer may be held liable for injuries stemming from a subsequent weather-related accident.