Weather forecasts have become demonstrably more accurate in recent decades due to increasingly sophisticated computer technology and models. Yet scientists cannot predict the future with 100% certainty. Relying on inaccurate or inadequate forecasts can result in great financial or even bodily harm. In such situations, what liability, if any, arises under the U.S. legal system?
This article is the first of a two-part review. Part I discusses several court decisions resolving law-suits against the federal or state government based on inaccurate or inadequate weather-related forecasts or failure to issue weather warnings that led to injury or loss. In general, most claims against the federal government based on weather forecasting or failure to warn about weather conditions have been (and likely will continue to be) resolved in favor of the government on the basis of immunity under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). State government immunity will depend on the provisions of a state's immunity statute and how the state interprets its immunity statute. Part II of the review will address claims against private sector weather forecasters. These articles aim to familiarize the reader with some of the legal issues involved when forecasts are the subject of a lawsuit, rather than provide a comprehensive, law-review-style legal analysis. The authors conclude with some forecasts of their own about liability for weather forecasters.
Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado/CIRES, Boulder, Colorado