Your insurance policy likely has an “Act of God” clause exempting coverage for events that happen outside of human control or activity. These excluded “Act of God” events are generally natural disasters like floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes.
While these force majeure clauses limit and sometimes exempt coverage for injuries, damage, and loss caused by natural disasters, they don’t absolve you from your duty to exercise reasonable care.
There are situations where businesses can be held liable for damages caused by adverse weather. However, the following tips can help you avoid that liability.
- Stay on top of weather advisories and forecasts
If strong winds or heavy rains cause an accident, you can be held liable for damages if you could have seen it coming, but didn’t prepare.
For example, say you run a construction company that operates in an area where high winds are common. You have a duty to exercise reasonable care and take measures to prevent accidents that can be caused by strong winds.
Construction accidents are costly, often resulting in multi-million-dollar verdicts and settlements. These figures are high because property damage and injuries in the construction industry are immense.
If extreme weather causes an accident that could have been prevented, you can be held liable. For instance, cranes are designed to withstand 140 MPH winds, but sometimes they collapse. That’s what exactly what happened in Dallas on June 9, 2019. Over the weekend, an unattended crane collapsed during a wind storm. The crane collapsed backwards and crushed an apartment building. Five people were injured and one person was killed.
Since winds only reached 71 MPH, people speculated that the crane’s operator didn’t release the swing brake, which would have reduced wind resistance by allowing the crane’s boom to spin. However, the details are unclear and the crane company maintains that all proper safety procedures were followed.
- Secure your patio furniture
If there is even a slight possibility that a tornado or wind storm can pick up a piece of furniture and turn it into a projectile, you need to bolt down your outdoor furniture.
In January 2020, a woman was injured during a Manhattan rainstorm when a wooden patio chair fell from a balcony and hit her in the head. The chair hit so hard that people thought it was a car crash.
The woman was rushed to the hospital and was expected to survive. Although it’s not clear whether the woman pursued legal action, if the chair had fallen from a business, she could have filed a personal injury lawsuit.
- Salt your sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots
During the winter, if there’s any possibility that your property will get even a thin layer of ice build-up, salt everything you can. Customers and clients who come to your place of business expect conditions to be safe. Depending on your state and local laws, you might be legally required to remove snow and melt ice. Check this handy chart for state-by-state rules and regulations.
If you don’t shove your snow or salt your parking lot, injured customers will probably file a personal injury lawsuit against your business for negligence.
Although ice and snow are uncontrollable, they are not unforeseeable, nor are they impossible to manage. Even if you live in a state that doesn’t mandate snow and ice removal, it’s just the right thing to do.
If you don’t have a snow shovel or a plow, it’s time to invest in those tools. Don’t count on being able to hire someone to do the work. The person you hire might not be able to get to you before your shop opens. Every minute your parking lot remains full of snow and ice is another minute your liability increases.
- Don’t allow employees to drive in adverse weather
If you can help it, don’t allow employees to drive in bad weather. There are some businesses that can’t avoid this (like food delivery services), but if possible, keep your employees out of the company car during rainstorms and other adverse weather situations.
You are responsible for your employees while they drive. If they cause a crash, you could be held liable even if there was adverse weather. Imagine if this 50+ vehicle pileup was caused not by the rain, but a driver distracted by a text message?
Be ready for adverse weather
You can’t prevent every accident, but be ready and willing to protect your customers and employees against foreseeable adverse weather conditions.