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Negligent Security Seminar | March 2015

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    The Role of Bad Weather in Florida Traffic Accidents: Legal Implications

    Adverse weather conditions, like torrential downpours, tornadoes, and hurricanes, disrupt daily life and significantly increase the risk of traffic accidents on Florida’s roads. The combination of wet roads, reduced visibility, and the unpredictability of other drivers’ reactions to these conditions can create a perilous driving environment.

    Understanding the legal implications of weather-related traffic accidents is crucial for anyone navigating Florida’s roadways.

    How Bad Weather Impacts Road Safety

    Florida’s weather poses unique challenges to drivers. The state’s susceptibility to a wide range of adverse weather conditions directly impacts road safety in several ways:

    1. Reduced Visibility: Heavy rains and fog significantly reduce visibility, making it difficult for drivers to see other vehicles, pedestrians, and road signs. This can lead to misjudgments in distance and speed, increasing the likelihood of collisions.
    2. Slippery Roads: Rainwater, especially during the first few minutes of a downpour, mixes with oil residue on the road surface, making it particularly slippery and reducing vehicles’ traction. This condition can lead to skidding and loss of control, especially if vehicles are not adequately maintained or have worn tires.
    3. Standing Water and Flooding: Intense rainfall can lead to standing water and flooding. These conditions present hazards such as hydroplaning, where a vehicle loses contact with the road surface and skims across the water, making it almost impossible to steer or brake.
    4. High Winds and Flying Debris: Hurricanes and tornadoes bring high winds that can cause vehicles, particularly high-profile ones like trucks and SUVs, to veer off course. Additionally, flying debris can create obstacles on the road or directly impact vehicles, leading to accidents.

    Legal Framework in Florida Regarding Weather-Related Accidents

    In Florida, the legal implications of weather-related traffic accidents hinge on the concept of negligence. Negligence is defined as the failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The determination of negligence in weather-related accidents involves several factors:

    • Duty of Care: All drivers have a duty to operate their vehicles safely, regardless of weather conditions. This includes adapting driving behavior to match the conditions, such as reducing speed and maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles.
    • Breach of Duty: If a driver fails to adjust their driving to accommodate bad weather, and this failure leads to an accident, they may be considered to have breached their duty of care.
    • Causation: There must be a direct link between the breach of duty and the accident. If bad weather is a significant factor, but the driver’s actions were the proximate cause of the accident, they may still be found negligent.
    • Damages: The accident must result in actual damages, such as physical injuries, property damage, or both.

    Determining Liability in Weather-Related Traffic Accidents

    Liability in weather-related accidents is not straightforward. Florida’s comparative negligence system means that multiple parties can be found partially at fault. For instance, if both drivers were driving recklessly during a storm, they might share the blame for the accident. Additionally, if poor road maintenance contributed to the accident, state or local government entities might also share liability.

    Steps to Take After a Weather-Related Traffic Accident

    Following a weather-related traffic accident in Florida, the steps you take can significantly impact your ability to recover damages and navigate the legal process. Here’s what you should do:

    1. Ensure Safety: First, ensure that you and any passengers are safe. Move to a secure location, if possible, away from traffic and hazardous conditions.
    2. Report the Accident: Contact law enforcement immediately. A police report is crucial for documenting the conditions at the time of the accident, which can be vital evidence if you need to file a claim.
    3. Document the Scene: Take photographs of the accident scene, including vehicle positions, road conditions, and any relevant weather conditions (such as standing water or debris). This documentation can be crucial in establishing the impact of weather on the accident.
    4. Exchange Information: Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver(s), but avoid discussing fault or details of the accident beyond what’s necessary.
    5. Seek Medical Attention: Some injuries may not be immediately apparent even if you feel fine. Seeking medical attention ensures your injuries are documented from the start, which is important for any potential injury claims.
    6. Consult with a Personal Injury Attorney: A personal injury attorney advocates for your rights, working to ensure you receive fair compensation. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand your legal rights, assess the situation, and guide you through the process of seeking compensation. Many cases are settled — sometimes for millions of dollars — but if a fair settlement cannot be reached, your attorney can take your case to court, presenting the evidence and arguing on your behalf.

    At Leighton Panoff Law, we have litigated and tried many cases involving weather-related accidents.  In one case, Leighton Panoff Law’s John Leighton represented a man who suffered a leg amputation when a semi-tractor trailer crossed over the median in fog due to diminished visibility.  We obtained a $7.4 million verdict for our client at trial.

    If you or someone you know has been involved in a weather-related traffic accident in Florida, don’t navigate the aftermath alone. Contact Leighton Panoff Law to learn more about your rights and how we can help you achieve the best possible outcome.

    Article by:

    John Leighton

    A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite


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