State and Local Government Liability in Winter Weather Drowning Accidents

Although the majority of drowning accidents occur in the late spring and summer seasons, a significant number of accidental drowning deaths occur during winter. In today’s post our drowning accident lawyer will review drowning accident deaths that are directly related to winter weather conditions and how negligence on the part of a local or state government agency may have contributed to such deaths.

Under the law, liability arises from a “breach of duty”

American law regarding accidental injury and death is based on the concept of “duty,” which holds that we each owe each other a moral (or legal) duty to conduct our daily business and personal affairs in a manner that does not cause injury to another. As an example, a shopkeeper has the responsibility to keep his or her business location free from any potential danger that could lead to an injury of a visitor to his or her place of business. If that shopkeeper is aware that a danger existed within an area that was under his or her direct control, and that danger led to an injury to another person, the shopkeeper can be held liable (legally responsible) for the consequences of such an accident.

The principles of negligence and liability also apply to government agencies in that any agency has the moral and legal obligation to protect the residents of any given area from harm. While most agencies routinely fulfill their duties to the public, there are situations related to winter weather where lapses in duty have occurred.

1. Failure to maintain public highways

Many winter weather drowning accident deaths occur when a motor vehicle motor slides off a bridge and comes to rest in a body of water such as a creek, river, or lake. When such accidents can be shown to have occurred because of ice or show on a highway, and if the highway department did not take adequate measures to prevent such buildup, that government agency may be held liable for damages following a civil lawsuit.

2. Allowing highways to remain open during winter storms

Every state and local highway department has the responsibility to close down a highway when the physical condition of that highway makes it unsafe for routine highway traffic. If weather conditions such as fog, ice, and/or snow make diving conditions unsafe, the local or state highway department must close that highway. Failure to close a temporarily unsafe highway may lead to liability if an accident was due to poor highway conditions.

3. Failure to properly monitor winter sports and recreation areas

Many winter weather drowning accidents occur during activities such as ice fishing or the operation of “off-road” vehicles on frozen-over bodies of water. The agency that is responsible for the routine operation of winter recreation areas also has the responsibility of assuring that these areas are safe to use. If an injury occurs in such an area, the agency having jurisdiction may be held liable if it can be shown that the agency did not prohibit certain activities or failed to take adequate steps to warn the public of the presence of danger, that agency may be liable for the consequences of an accident.

Winter drowning accidents should be discussed with a drowning accident lawyer

Loss of a family member due to accidental drowning is always a tragedy, and even more so when negligence by a local or state government agency may have played a role in that death. However, proving such negligence may be difficult without the help of a drowning accident lawyer.

If you have lost a family member to a drowning accident that was related to winter weather conditions, you should arrange an appointment with a personal injury and drowning accident lawyer to discuss the facts of your case as well as the legal options that may be available you or to the accident victim. In many such cases it may not be immediately obvious that negligence by a government agency was a direct factor in the accident, but a drowning accident attorney will have the knowledge of state and local accident injury law to advise you on the best course of action to follow should he or she feel that negligence may have contributed to your injuries and other losses.

To recap, many winter weather-related drowning accidents may be related to negligence on the part of a local or state government agency. In many such cases the agency involved either 1) knew that winter weather conditions posed a danger to public safety but did not take the actions necessary to protect others or 2) should have known that a potentially dangerous situation existed yet failed to act on such knowledge. In either situation, a drowning accident lawyer will be able to advise the accident victim and the victim’s family members on the best course of action to recover the substantial costs that may be associated with winter weather drowning accidents.