Storm Ophelia: Adverse Weather and Compensation Claims

In The Tragedy of Hamlet by Shakespeare, the character Ophelia appears to lose her life following the breaking of branches of a Willow tree.  The irony of the name and the melancholy associated with the character, should not be lost on us following the devastation caused by Storm Ophelia.  I would like to express my sincerest condolences to the families and friends of those in Ireland who lost their lives during the Storm.  

Adverse weather events appear to be on the rise globally, in what has been described by BBC Horizon in conjunction with the Met Office, as a period of "global weirding".  Floods; droughts; forest fires; hurricanes; cold snaps; extremities of weather appear to be spiking worldwide. Events are commonly described as "unprecedented" or the "worst since records began".    Whilst these events may be described as an "act of God" by some,  there are circumstances when someone may be held responsible or liable for causing or contributing to harm, where such damage is reasonably foreseeable.   A recent UN Study, in conjunction with Columbia Law School, shows that "Climate change litigation" is on the rise Recent examples include communities in California suing some of the largest Oil Companies as a result of coastal errosion, allegedly caused by carbon emission based climate change and sea levels rising as a result.  

 

Stepping back from the edge of these ground breaking claims, we are probably some way from seeing climate change litigation claims in Northern Ireland, however on a day to day basis, there are circumstances when liability occurs for damage caused during adverse weather.  The last time Northern Ireland was hit with hurricane force winds, I acted for a number of clients who sustained damage to property and personal injury.  Whilst defendant insurers try to suggest such damage was an act of god; extreme weather was an unforseeable cause, we were successful in recovering compensation. 

 

Bad weather occurs frequently in Northern Ireland. It is therefore reasonably foreseeable that we may experience hurricane force winds, such gusts occur frequently according to Met office data.  Therefore, if something dangerous were to escape from a person's property, causing harm to others, occupiers liability could apply.  There is a further argument of res ipsa loquitur, meaning that the thing speaks for itself.  If fixtures or fittings blew loose from a property in high winds, causing damage, then on the face of it, it could be argued that said objects were not installed or maintained well enough to endure reasonably foreseeable conditions.

 

If you wish to discuss a claim for damage or personal injury as a result of adverse weather or otherwise, please do not hesitate to get in touch on 02890 321 000.

James Stewart