weather-tornadoThe notion of a meteorologist, or weather specialist, being employed for the purpose of providing expert consultation, testimony, or other legal support services in civil matters might, at first glance, appear to be a novel concept. However, utilization of weather and meteorological expert services has been, and continues to be, a highly beneficial tool in a multitude of civil practice areas. Common areas include personal injury, premise liability, products liability, as well as insurance and construction related litigation.

Experts in the field of weather or meteorology are perhaps most notably known for expertise concerning accident reconstruction, environmental hazards, and other related areas within the personal injury arena. Such experts are particularly useful in cases where weather conditions have been asserted as a contributing factor to an accident in which injuries were sustained. For example, weather experts can provide evidence concerning road conditions and visibility, for the purpose of assessing a motorist’s adherence, or lack thereof, to standards of reasonableness. Accident Reconstruction experts specialized in weather and meteorology are also used to evaluative the presence or absence of negligence in boating accidents, both in accidents involving privately owned vessels, as well as common carrier vessels, such as cruise ships. Likewise, these experts can also provide expertise supporting or negating allegations of negligence in causes of action involving aircraft accidents, whether privately or commercially owned.

Personal injury associated with premise liability is another common scenario in which civil practitioners may employ a weather or meteorologist expert. Many jurisdictions permit civil actions which seek recovery for injuries sustained as a result of natural accumulations of ice and snow “if the landlord is given a reasonable amount of time to clear the area. “ Karns, Robert T., Experts put your slip-and-fall cases on solid ground, Journal of the Association of Trial Lawyers, Dec. 2002 at 26, 28. As Karns points out in his article,

“In these cases, you must produce a weather report from a court-accepted service, such as the North-east Regional Climate Center, describing hourly precipitation, temperature, and other weather factors on the day of the incident. This will help show the amount of time the landlord had to clear the area after the snow or ice accumulated. You can also use weather reports to show wind speed in a case involving flying debris or the amount of rain in a case involving a slip in a puddle caused by a leaky roof. Government agencies or military installations are reliable sources that are usually accepted by courts. A private weather-reporting company will need to be qualified as an expert before the court.” Id.

Weather and meteorologist experts may also be employed in civil matters concerning home owner’s insurance claims. In some circumstances, experts may provide evidence regarding destruction caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, or other damage caused by weather conditions. Often time such expertise relates to the after effects of natural disasters, such as damage resulting from bacteria, fungi, or other caustic microorganisms resulting from the presence of standing water.

Yet, in other scenarios, engineer experts may combine with meteorological experts in matters involving claims of construction defects or building design. The expertise provided by engineer experts often hinges on considerations as to whether relevant standards, as proscribed by statute, regulation, code, or industry standard were adhered to during the design or construction process. However, in matters in which weather is alleged to be the resulting cause of damage, the evidentiary value of an engineering expert may only prove beneficial if such expert also possesses specialized expertise in weather or meteorology. This is particularly true for matters in which existing law, prior case law, and industry standard, fail to provide guidance regarding particular components of building construction or design. By seeking legal expert services which combine both essential areas of knowledge—engineering and meteorology—civil practitioners are more easily able to demonstrate why a party’s actions were, or were not, foreseeable, manifestly unreasonable, or otherwise in breach of an acceptable or requisite standard of care.

Despite the vastly diverse areas of practice in which weather and meteorologist experts may find themselves employed, each share the same common interest or goals pertaining to all actions involving tort liability—duty, breach, causation, and damages.  While issues concerning foreseeability, standard of care, reasonableness encompass the first three elements and serve to overcome issues of liability, the fourth element of damages is an equally important component necessitating the presentation of explanatory evidence.  In sum, although jurors may have been presented with sufficient evidence to make the determination that a claimant is entitled to compensation, such efforts may prove futile if the jury is unable to quantify damage amounts.

By: Alicia McKnight, J.D.