When Bad Weather Crashes Happen To Good Drivers
A massive downpour has brought another three inches of rain to North Texas, this on top of soil that is saturated from last week’s deluge. Treacherous driving conditions increase the chances of people getting into bad weather crashes. And determining which driver’s insurance company must pay for the associated costs can become a complicated legal question. But hundreds of drivers have unfortunately been in wrecks here just in the past week and may be unexpectedly facing this problem.
In Fort Worth yesterday there were at least 80 crashes. Two people tragically died in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In South Dallas, a man’s car got stuck in the mud of the median and he was struck when he attempted to cross the highway and just west of Fort Worth, an 18-wheeler jack-knifed and a van crashed into it. Our law firm is handling a crash case at almost that same location when an automobile driver and 18-wheeler were driving too fast on a rain-slick Interstate 20 and caused a six-vehicle pile-up last year at about this same time last year.
This almost Biblical weather will continue for the next few days and bring us up to six more inches of rain. Is it time to build an Ark? We’ve already gotten almost nine inches of rain in the first half of the month when the entire month of October usually only sees four inches. A police siren just went off and the Trinity River outside our building shows signs it could overflow its banks. It’s still pouring and will be during the afternoon commute causing more collisions.
But bad weather and the resulting havoc on our roads are common problems. According to the Federal Highway Administration, of the almost six million car collisions each year, about 25% are related to bad weather. If you don’t think this is a problem, consider that almost one half million people are injured and over 6,000 people die as a result. Heavy rainfall is the primary culprit in addition to snow, ice, sleet, wind, and fog.Here is a list of roads that are closed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area today.
How does Texas law determine who is at fault when weather is bad?
North Texas weather can change on a dime. Yesterday it was almost 80 degrees and today it’s winter. Driving in these horrible conditions requires motorists to use a higher degree of care than normal. But many people don’t adjust their behavior.
There are key questions a personal injury lawyer needs answered to decide how an “accident” happened including the following:
- How extreme and foreseeable was the weather?
- How did it affect visibility?
- Were the driver’s headlights on?
- What was the speed limit and what speed were vehicles travelling?
- What was the condition of the vehicles, especially their brakes, tires, headlights and windshield wipers?
- How experienced were the drivers?
- Was distracted driving a factor, and was anyone using his cell phone or looking away from the road?
Can more than one driver be at fault in a crash?
Yes, this happens all the time. Texas has a formula called comparative comparative negligence that weighs each person’s actions or failures to act. The jury can find that one of the drivers totally at fault, both (or more than two) drivers are partially to blame, or that no one is responsible. So driver #1 can be found to be 70% liable and driver #2 can be held 30% to blame. Many collisions are caused by more than one person. If the injured party who filed the lawsuit is found to be partially responsible for causing the collision, his damages are reduced by that amount, and if he is more than 50% at fault, he receives nothing for his damages.
Therefore it is essential that an immediate investigation be performed after the crash. The car accident lawyer will attempt to get all photographs, police reports, witness statements, scene diagrams, and other evidence that he needs to win his client’s case.
Why is the insurance company denying my case due to the weather?
Insurance companies go out of their way to deny any case, even simple rear-enders. That’s how they make vast sums of money. According to Forbes Magazine, the average increase in auto insurance rates from 2012 to 2017 was 21.5%, compared to a growth in the consumer price index of 4.5%, the largest five-year grown in auto insurance costs since the early 1990’s. State Farm made over $2 billion last year.
But clearly weather can complicate the issue of liability. If you have called the other driver’s insurance company to attempt to resolve your claim by yourself, you may hear the adjuster casually throw out terms like “contributory negligence,” “unavoidable accident,” “responsible third party,” or “phantom driver.” While there may be some truth to the involvement of other drivers or a natural event, a good lawyer who specializes in car accidents examines the facts of your crash and analyzes whether these are legitimate defenses that can be raised and won in court or just excuses.Sometimes no driver could have possibly avoided the collision, regardless of how careful he was. If an unforeseeable act of nature intervened and solely caused the collision, under the law the defendant can plead that the crash was an “Act of God.” But this defense is often abused by insurance companies during periods of rainfall, ice, smoke, fog, and extreme heat when they do not want to pay any damages to the injured person — or pay as little money as possible.
Yes, the rain may have contributed to the the crash, but it was probably not the sole cause. Unless the deluge was totally unexpected, the insurance company’s argument is bogus. Yes, a hail storm or tornado that came out of nowhere is one thing. But today in driving rain, if a person is driving too fast on Interstate 35 and hydroplanes into your car, he should not be allowed to blame nature and avoid repayment of the damages he caused.
How to avoid crashes on our rain-soaked roads
You can’t just assume it is “business as usual” on the highways as you race to get to work this week. As the heavy rain accumulates on the concrete or asphalt, your car’s or truck’s tires lose a lot of the traction they usually have. Stopping distance is impeded and you can hydroplane if you mash on the brakes.
So before you start your journey, here are some tips that will help keep you safe when the weather conditions are poor:
- Listen to the weather report for where you are driving.
- Curtail non emergency travel and log on to Google Maps or Waze to see how your commute has been affected.
- Consider leaving much earlier or later
- Or take a different route.
- Be extra alert and prepare for the worst.
- Use your head lights.
- Slow down and leave more space between you and other vehicles, especially tractor-trailers.
- Don’t even think about using a cell phone.
- Or the cruise control.
- Never drive through flooded roads, the leading cause of fatalities after a heavy rainfall. You may not be able to tell how deep the water is and whether you could be swept away or if electrical lines have fallen downstream. Here is more information about the dangers of driving on them.
We Can Help
Berenson Injury Law has successfully represented people injured in car, truck and other vehicle collisions for over 38 years. In fact, these are the only types of law cases we handle. If you have been involved in a crash, please call us at 817-885-8000 (toll-free at 1-885-801-8585) or email us here.