As summer stubbornly refuses to arrive and as the rain prompts us all to build arks, buy canoes and indulge in that perennial human trait – looking for someone to blame – I came across an article in an American legal research magazine with the above intriguing title.
As we all know, America is the home of fanciful litigation. No matter what certain newspapers suggest, we in the UK are a long way from their compensation culture and, hopefully, we will never get anywhere near to it. Americans enjoy suing almost as much as they do invading other counties, often, in both cases, with little justification or any long-term benefit.
Who can forget the case of the campervan driver who set his vehicle on cruise control and then went in the back to make a cup of coffee? He sued the manufacturer on the basis that the instructions did not make it clear that even on cruise control someone still had to steer the thing, otherwise it would crash!
In Connelly v State of California, a marina owner telephoned the state-run weather forecast bureau to ask how much rain would fall and the impact this would have on river levels. He was told the river was expected to peak at 24 feet. He moored his pontoons to float at this level. In the event, more rain fell, the river peaked at 29 feet and his pontoons were extensively damaged. When Connolly sued the state for his loss, the defence was that weather forecasting is inherently vague and the weatherman could not be held liable if it wasn’t accurate. This seems a perfectly reasonable response, yet the court held that Connelly could recover his losses because of that erroneous forecast.
In another bizarre US case, a light plane crashed on take off because the wind speed was too high. Both the pilot and his passenger were killed. Weather forecasts had predicted light winds. However, when the weather service discovered this was wrong, they did nothing to correct the original forecast. Had they done so, the pilot would have aborted the take off. The weather service were found liable for damages of $1,400,000 to the families of the pilot and his passenger. Strange that no one thought to ask why the pilot had not actually done his own test (just hold a wet thumb in the air?) or noticed himself that the wind was strong enough to blow heavy debris all across the runway!
This is, fortunately, not a trend ever likely to catch on in the UK. If it did, certain local television weather forecasters would be bankrupt within a week. But we here have a far more sensible approach, accepting that weather forecasting is not a guarantee of what weather will be like. And, of course, currently, the forecasters are generally not getting it wrong. Day after day they predict rain and gloom and day after day we get rain and gloom.
So, if not the weatherman, who can we sue for the bad weather? How about the gods? Now that really would be one up on the Americans!