The recent devastation caused by tornados in Alabama has become one of the major news stories of this spring. Due to the proliferation of video recorders and videophones, the horrific events were captured as they happened. Similarly, through remote cameras, news channel meteorologists were able to cover the events in real-time and, arguably, saved lives with their warnings to residents.
However, what if the warnings had not been given or given incorrectly? I came across an interesting legal survey on whether liability exists for negligent weather forecasts.
While the author shows that, to date, suits arising out of allegedly negligent weather forecasting have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful, the issue is not completely dead. The author pointedly reminds us of the Second Restatement of Torts, Section 323, which states:
One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of the other’s person or things, is subject to liability to the other for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to perform his undertaking, if (a) his failure to exercise such care increases the risk of such harm, or (b) the harm is suffered because of the other’s reliance upon the undertaking.
Arguably, with the explosion of smart phones, and people’s reliance on receiving information through these devices, it is conceivable that provision of wrong weather information (or failure to provide an official weather warning) through an “app” may one day give rise to legal liability.
Is such liability likely? It is as difficult to predict as the weather.