How do insurance companies judge fault in car accidents in bad weather? Will they give someone a break because the weather was bad? Will they judge a driver more harshly? Or is it something in between? The short answer is that it depends on the circumstances. In order to understand how the law is applied to car accidents in bad weather, we must remember that liability for a car accident is based on negligence, and that the weather is just another factor for the insurer (and a jury) to consider in determining whether a driver was negligent.
In general, negligence means not exercising the amount of reasonable care that the situation calls for. Negligence is based on what lawyers call the "reasonable person" standard. If a reasonable person would have done a certain action, then not doing that action would be negligent. Alternatively, if a reasonable person would not have done a certain action, then doing that action would be negligent. In order to determine whether someone acted negligently, a jury (and an insurance company) examines all of the circumstances relating to that person’s actions.
The weather is one of the factors that is relevant to determining whether a driver was negligent. Other factors include things like the drivers’ speed, the road conditions, the visibility, and whether either of the drivers was distracted or intoxicated, among other things.
If, for example, it is raining lightly such that neither visibility nor the road conditions are affected, then the weather may not be an issue. But the worse the weather, the more likely that a reasonable driver will need to adjust his/her driving to take the weather into account. It is the need for a reasonable driver to adjust his/her driving (usually, by slowing down and increasing safe following distance) that insurers are concerned with.
Let’s take a couple of examples. Let’s say that it is raining heavily. Heavy rain affects visibility and the road conditions. It’s harder for a driver to see, and the road is more slippery. Most drivers would go a little more slowly in heavy rain than they would if it were not raining. Thus, the hypothetical “reasonable person” would also go more slowly due to the conditions.
When an insurance adjuster evaluates a car accident claim that arose in bad weather, the adjuster determines if the drivers were driving reasonably for the weather conditions. If the adjuster decides that its insured was driving too fast for the conditions, the adjuster will pay on the claim, even if the defendant was driving below the speed limit. This is because the key in bad weather claims is whether the drivers were driving reasonably for the conditions.
On the other hand, when a driver is driving reasonably for the conditions, then an insurer might fight liability. Let’s say that it was snowing, and the insured (i.e., the defendant) was driving slowly and cautiously (well below the speed limit), but still crashes into you. In that case, the defendant’s insurer might well deny liability on the grounds that its insured was not negligent.
So it cannot be said that insurance companies are lenient or harsh on bad weather car accidents. For insurers, bad weather is just another factor to consider in determining whether the drivers were negligent, which is exactly the way that the law sees it.
Under the law, what is reasonable in good weather may not be reasonable in bad weather. At the trial of a car accident case where weather is an issue, the judge would probably instruct the jurors that they should take the weather into account by considering whether the parties were driving reasonably under the circumstances. Learn more about Common Fault Issues in Car Accident Claims.