In our last post, we discussed how important it is for everyone to have a plan of action in case they are caught in the path of a tornado, flash flood, or other natural disaster. Having advanced preparations at home is wise, as well. Things like collecting extra batteries and sufficient food and water to cover a few days of emergency conditions is smart for all of us.
Hopefully, the worst of the disaster that we’ll have to endure is some frustration until things are back to normal. However, the sad truth is that there will be victims of natural disasters here in Indiana and Illinois who are seriously injured or even killed during a severe storm or in its aftermath.
Does Indiana and Illinois law provide any protection or help for these accident victims? Yes.
While no situation is generic, and each event and injury must be given the individual respect it is due, there are protections that have been placed into the law books here in Indiana as well as in Illinois to protect those who have been seriously hurt or killed during a disaster, such as a flash flood.
1. Auto Accidents in Flood Conditions
Driving in the rain is always dangerous, but driving any kind of motor vehicle during a flood or flood warning is extremely risky. Drivers should carefully consider the need to be on the roads at all during this kind of hazardous situation. If there is an accident where a car skids off the roadway into a flooded roadside ditch, for instance, then that driver may be liable to his passengers for negligently being on the roads and driving during these kinds of weather conditions.
Another serious concern and cause for severe injuries and wrongful death in times of flooding are those drivers who choose to ignore warnings and enter into bodies of water that are covering the roadway. Even a small amount of water moving over a two-lane road can exert tremendous force.
If that driver is caught by the water and pulled off the roadway, losing control of the vehicle, then his passengers may likewise have claims against him for negligence in this situation.
Negligence in any kind of accident is the failure to act as a reasonable and prudent person would act under the circumstances. Driving defensively and on the side of caution in heavy rain or flooding may mean not driving on the roads at all.
2. Truck Crashes or Bus Crashes in Flood Conditions or Heavy Rains
Commercial truck drivers and bus drivers (motorcoaches) are professional drivers. They have special training, and have been issued special licenses to demonstrate their expertise. As expert drivers, they are held to a higher standard of driving ability than other drivers.
When faced with heavy rains or flooding, as well as tornado warnings and alerts, these professional drivers should be well aware of the specific dangers that they face as they try and maneuver their large and heavy machines along the roadway. Even slick streets pose a significant hazard to these semi trucks, big rigs, tractor trailers, and buses.
If a commercial truck driver or bus driver is in an accident while driving in a rain storm, flood conditions, or worse — weather conditions where a tornado has been sighted or warnings issued — then that driver may well have been negligently risking serious injury and damage not only to himself but to others who share the road with him as well as those who are near the roadside, possibly waiting out the storm.
Any serious accidents here may involve claims against that truck driver or bus driver for failing to act reasonably by continuing to drive during these kinds of weather conditions. The pressure to meet a deadline or keep to a schedule is no reason for the commercial driver to gamble against the power of a flash flood, high winds, or worse.
3. Failure to Protect or Prepare
Other accident and wrongful death claims may be based on factors other than a negligent driver in a crash. Some accident victims may look to those responsible for making sure that the roads are safe or that conditions were protected, If these parties have failed in their duty, the result can be someone severely injured or killed. This can include companies as well as governmental entities.
Here, things like the failure to warn of flooding with barricades may mean a driver did not know that there was a flooded roadway in his path. In this instance, the parties responsible for placing barricades or flood warning signs may be facing claims. Cities, counties, private school districts, contractors, builders, etc., may be involved.
Another possibility: failing to have the brakes checked on the semi big rig truck before it was allowed to be driven. If the trucking company failed to maintain its brakes and the brakes failed on a slick roadway, then the company itself may be liable for a damage claim.
Another concern: not allowing workers, students, customers, or clients adequate warning and sufficient time to leave the premises and get to a safe place, like home, in severe weather conditions. Should a movie theater warn its patrons that there is a danger of flash flooding? If if fails to do so, then is it liable for a patron who is caught up in the flood waters while driving home from the movies?
What about high winds? We know about how serious these winds alone can be from the tragedies suffered here at the Indiana State Fair in 2011. Check out our web site coverage of that deadly stage collapse.
Act of God or Actionable Claim: Each Situation is Different
Again, each case is unique. However, in both Indiana and Illinois there are laws in place to protect accident victims who are injured or killed during a natural disaster.
Many members of the public may assume that if the injuries occurred during a flood or tornado, then it’s an “Act of God,” and there is no legal redress. This may or may not be the situation, however. Let’s be careful out there!