Joint Session J2.3 Legal Implications of Forecasting

Monday, 25 June 2007: 11:30 AM
Summit AB (The Yarrow Resort Hotel and Conference Center)
Marsha L. Baum, University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, NM

Presentation PDF (32.3 kB)

While the law and the weather intersect in many ways that people do not consider, liability for forecasting and for failure to warn is an area in which the intersection has been considered in detail by several courts. Attempts have been made to hold governmental forecasters, private forecasters, and businesses liable for both inaccurate forecasts and for failure to warn under the negligence concepts of tort law. While the courts generally have held that there is no tort liability for inaccurate forecasts and failure to provide warnings, the changes in technologies, computer modeling, and new forecasting methods may modify the legal view that liability should not attach due to uncertainties in weather behavior. If forecasts can become more accurate, the stance that predictions are just predictions may be reconsidered by the courts, leaving forecasters subject to liability for harm to those who rely upon the forecasts.

Current legal limitations on liability for forecasting and warning are not limited to the uncertainties of weather predictions. The limitations also reflect the lack of a recognized legal duty between the person harmed and the party who is claimed to have provided an inaccurate forecast or who is claimed to have failed to warn of impending severe weather. Governmental agency liability is separately limited by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. These limitations of lack of duty and sovereign immunity will likely remain as protection against liability; however, if a forecasting agency or weather station provides assurances of accuracy or assumes a duty to warn, might the nature of the relationship between the forecaster and the person heeding the forecast change in the eyes of the law? In at least on recent case, a company was held liable under contract law for failure to provide forecasts and warnings as specified in its agreement with a customer. Could this type of duty be recognized in other circumstances to create a liability for inaccurate forecasts or failure to warn?

This presentation will briefly discuss the current state of the law related to weather forecasts and warning systems, discussing the relevant cases and legal doctrine for a non-lawyer audience. The presentation will then turn to the ways in which the law has tried to address technological progress such as computer and Internet advancements. The courts and the legislatures have attempted to either fit new harms into current legal doctrine or to create new doctrine reflecting the changes in society resulting from the new technologies. The presentation will then consider whether this translation of legal principles in relation to new technologies might result in newly recognized liability for forecasting and warning systems.

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