Can Bad Weather Affect Car Accident Liability in North Carolina?

November 25, 2020 | By Riddle & Brantley Accident Injury Lawyers
Can Bad Weather Affect Car Accident Liability in North Carolina?

How Does Weather Affect Who Is At Fault in a Car Accident?

When the weather outside is bad, drivers beware because inclement weather conditions substantially increase the chances of getting into an auto accident. If a driver has a crash during foul weather such as snow, ice, rain or fog, how much fault can the driver have for the accident? Weather means a lot more than “is it raining or snowing?” In legal terms, weather encompasses the following conditions and more:

  • Rain
  • Snow
  • Wind
  • Fog
  • Dust storms
  • Sunset
  • Sundown
  • Poor lighting
  • Sun blindness
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Thunderstorms

These possible weather conditions can be part of the facts involving an auto accident, especially those happening near sunset or sundown. In our experience we have found that liability for an auto crash is more impacted by lighting conditions and fog than rain or snow. We also have experts we can hire to help us determine the impact of weather and lighting conditions on the liability of the drivers. We can use experts who accurately track the weather conditions that occurred on a certain day and time, and we can pinpoint the level of light and amount or rain or snow that was falling at that time.

“Can Bad Weather Affect My Car Accident Claim?”

Weather may be a contributing factor in a car accident, but the driver can still be held liable in North Carolina.

The answer is yes — in many situations, weather can impact the liability determination in an auto accident.

At times, bad weather is unavoidable, but it is just one component added to all the other elements of your crash. Bad weather can have an impact on determining who was liable in any car crash.

“Reasonable Care” and Car Accident Liability

Car accidents happen every day, regardless of the weather. When there is extreme weather such as freezing rain, snow or heavy rain, then all drivers are held under the law to drive with a reasonable degree of caution and concern for the safety of others under the circumstances. This is called “reasonable care.” Therefore, the law holds drivers to a standard of reasonable care under the circumstances of the poor weather or lighting.

Reasonable Care and Bad Weather

Under the standard of reasonable care, during extreme weather, drivers will be held to higher degrees of responsibilities. For example, if you are driving at night or when the road is covered with ice, then driving the normal speed limit may be considered negligent under poor driving conditions.

Every driver has a duty to others on the road to maintain control of their vehicle to avoid a wreck. The important factor in a bad weather car crash is to prove the driver failed to maintain control of the vehicle due to driver negligence rather than bad weather. Drivers must use a level of care that is appropriate for the conditions on the road.

Contributory Negligence in Bad Weather Accidents in North Carolina

In bad weather conditions, drivers should reduce their following distance and speed. You may be able to avoid liability for a car accident during foul weather if you drive responsibly using extreme caution. For example, if a driver is using reasonable care while driving in poor weather conditions and rear-ends a car because of sliding on an icy road, this may not be the driver’s fault. However, in NC, it is still possible for the driver to be at fault for the accident. The weather may only mitigate some of this liability and be just one factor among many that caused the crash. In North Carolina, under the law of “contributory negligence,” a driver need only provide a contributing cause to the accident to be liable for the damages.

What is Contributory Negligence in a Bad Weather Car Accident Claim?

"Despite bad weather, contributory negligence means if you were even partially responsible for a car accident, you may be barred from recovery." - Gene Riddle

Should you and the driver of the other car share responsibility for the accident, even if the weather may be to blame too, this could bar your claim from compensation. Plaintiffs who live in many other states would still be able to get a reduced amount of compensation should they have some liability because most states recognize “comparable fault” in determining liability for an accident. Unfortunately, this is not true for NC residents. NC recognizes contributory negligence.

This legal term means that even if you are only one percent at fault for an accident, your claim for damages is barred under the law. North Carolina is only one of five jurisdictions that recognizes this legal principal. The other jurisdictions are:

  • Alabama
  • Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Washington DC.

In certain circumstances, contributory negligence would not act as a complete bar to recovery. There are exceptions. For example, if the defendant had the “last clear chance” to avoid the accident and failed to exercise reasonable care to do so, then the plaintiff’s negligence is excused and will not prevent his recovery for damages. We have tried cases and won many others based on this theory of last clear chance, but it is a complicated legal principal, and you need an experienced car accident attorney to help you successfully present it.

Other ways drivers can be found negligent during bad weather conditions include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Driving with worn tires or worn windshield wipers
  • Drunk driving
  • Driving while drowsy or fatigued
  • Not using lights or windshield wipers
  • Aggressive or reckless driving
  • Failing to obey traffic signals or road signs
  • Texting
  • Playing with the radio
  • Talking on the phone
  • Eating while driving
  • Applying make up to the face

Safe Driving Tips for Bad Weather

If you must get behind the wheel in bad weather, here are a few tips to consider for driving safely:

  • Driving in foul weather usually takes longer, so it is important to plan ahead
  • Make sure you drive slowly and leave more distance between you and the car in front of you than you normally would
  • Always use your low beams when driving in fog
  • Switch to low beams when approaching oncoming traffic
  • Any time you feel unsafe and you are able, pull over
  • Make sure your wipers and lights are working properly and your tires are in good shape
  • Have a fully charged phone
  • Always wear your seat belt

Injured in a Car Accident in North Carolina?

$600+ million recovered since 2000 alone.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in bad weather, we are here to help. For a FREE consultation with an experienced North Carolina car accident lawyer, please call 1-800-525-7111.

There is no obligation and you won’t pay any attorney fees unless we win your case.

Call 1-800-525-7111 today and let’s review your claim.

Our car accident attorneys have over 220 years of combined legal experience helping the people of NC when they have been in an accident.

We believe Justice Counts and we are ready to help however we can.

Please call 1-800-525-7111 today for a FREE, no-obligation case review.