Each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) releases its research predictions for Florida and the likelihood we will experience serious storm activity, like tropical storms or hurricanes, during the year.
With those major storms, comes the possibility of personal injury claims caused by dangerous conditions like fallen debris, wet and slippery flooring and walkways and wet and slick road ways.
Hurricane Season Warnings from National Hurricane Center
For instance, NOAA issued an early warning that Florida should expect hurricane activity during the 2017 hurricane season. Then in August 2017, the National Hurricane Center (a division of NOAA) issued an update with an even more serious concern that this year, places like Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and Palm Beach County are going to be in danger of tropical storm and hurricanes at a level “worse than predicted” beforehand.
Check Your Insurance
We should all heed these warnings. Each spring, Floridians (individuals and businesses alike) should check their insurance policies and make sure they have adequate coverage for any catastrophic storm event. If you are living in Florida, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Does my homeowners’ policy include wind damage coverage?
- Do I have flood insurance?
- What does my auto insurance policy provide if I am in a hurricane-related car accident or debris damages my vehicle?
- Does my business have coverage for a casualty on the premises during a storm?
Accidents in the Aftermath of a Hurricane
Of course, Floridians know the dangers of hurricane damage and the aftermath of a serious storm event. Many prepare for a major storm regardless of the seasonal predictions.
What many of us may not realize (and what is notoriously under reported) are the high risks of injury, accident, and fatal death in the days and weeks that follow the storm or hurricane.
Personal injuries from events tied to the aftermath of the hurricane or storm happen in a variety of circumstances. People are severely injured in these accidents, and some personal injuries may even result in the death of a victim. See, e.g., McKinney, Nathan, Chris Houser, and Klaus Meyer-Arendt. “Direct and indirect mortality in Florida during the 2004 hurricane season.” International journal of bio-meteorology 55.4 (2011): 533-546.
Injuries after a Hurricane
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have compiled a long list of risk factors and dangers that Floridians may face after the hurricane or tropical storm has hit and done its damage.
These risks include injuries from clean-up and repair as well as rescue efforts, tainted water, and even structural damage in the home or apartment.
Car accidents and slip and falls are much more likely to occur in the aftershock of a storm. There will be broken traffic lights, missing street signs, and debris on walkways. You may even find that walking surfaces, stairwells, and ramps are in need of repair after a major storm.
According to the CDC, below is a list of injuries with a heightened likelihood of occurring after a hurricane or major storm in Florida:
- carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices,
- cuts and bleeding from chain saws, (see below)
- bites and scratches (infections) from wild or stray animals,
- Electric shock from electric tools or appliances while standing in water,
- Electrocution from underwater live power lines or electrified water ,
- Car crashes, and
- Slip and falls.
A tragic example: while running his chain saw to take care of tree branches in the clean up from 2017’s Hurricane Irma, a Florida man was killed when the saw got caught in the branches and the blades hit his body, severing his carotid artery and causing his death. See, “Chainsaw accident kills man cleaning up debris after Irma,” reported by Fox News.
Other tragedies in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma include: (1) a fatal car crash caused by the storm; (2) an electrocution from stepping on a live power line; and (3) several family members killed from carbon monoxide poisoning emitting from the gas generator running in their home. See, “Hurricane Irma death toll in Orange County confirmed at 5,” reported by Orlando Rising.
On the Job Accidents
There is particular concern for the risk of personal injury for workers doing cleanup and restoration after the hurricane. The National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) warns of accident dangers that include:
- electrical hazards,
- Carbon Monoxide,
- musculoskeletal hazards,
- heat stress,
- motor vehicles,
- hazardous materials,
- confined spaces, and
Other Dangers After a Hurricane
There are other risks after a hurricane or storm, including: food poisoning, drinking contaminated water, and being exposed to toxic mold or mildew (and other bacteria).
- Tainted Food- When the power goes out after a storm, there’s a temptation to eat some of the food that sits in the refrigerator. Perishables left in the fridge can become toxic even though they don’t look bad or emit a bad odor.
- Toxic Mold- In our humidity, mold grows very fast and can erupt within hours or days after a serious storm has hit. Mold can cause respiratory illnesses in many and can be particularly dangerous for the young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Everyone should know their rights about mold exposure, including residential tenants.
- Contaminated Water- People can die from drinking water or having their skin come into contact with adulterated water after a storm. This includes water that has accumulated outdoors as well as water coming out of the tap after a hurricane. Drinking water can be unsafe and harm anyone who drinks it. Standing water can grow toxic bacteria that can kill humans.
For example, after Hurricane Harvey in Texas, a former paramedic and first-responder had been working in the flood waters. He quickly realized that he had been exposed to bacteria that had caused “necrotizing fasciitis” which kills soft tissue and can cause death. See, “Hurricane Harvey responder contracts deadly bacteria in floodwaters,” reported by FireRescue1.
Lawsuits and Personal Injury Claims after a Hurricane
According to the Washington Post, more people die from accidents and injuries sustained after the hurricane than during the storm itself. Its study of the ten deadliest hurricanes of the 21st century (2000 – 2017) found that the storms present different dangers. For instance, the tremendous flooding after Harvey and Katrina posed different risks than the high winds of Irma.
However, its research shows that most “indirect deaths” are caused by electrocution; carbon monoxide poisoning; dealing with trees and clean up; car accidents (because of failed traffic signals, etc.); open flames (20); and falls due to ladders, roofs, or unlit stairwells.
For victims of hurricane accident injuries, it is important to investigate your case and determine if your injuries occurred as a result of a breach of a legal duty that was owed to you.
The mere fact that a hurricane has hit the Florida coast does not erase or negate the legal duty imposed upon businesses, utilities, property owners, product manufacturers, and anyone driving a motor vehicle on the local streets after a storm has passed.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
For example, if you are involved in a car crash in the days or weeks following the hurricane, then you need to know if the accident was caused in part by a missing street sign or failing traffic signal. You should ask yourself: did the driver take extra precautions accordingly? Most drivers know to consider an intersection as a four-way stop if the signal is not working. What happened in your case?
For more on car accident claims, read: Florida Car Accident Compensation Law
Slip and Falls
Premises owners have a duty to their customers and invitees to keep those visiting their store, gas station, restaurant, hotel, etc., safe from harm. This includes making sure there is adequate lighting, setting up warning signs for “wet floors”, spreading sand on slippery surfaces, etc.
If you or a loved one slipped and fell on a commercial property in the days or weeks following the hurricane, then you need to know if that owner or business operator breached a legal duty to you that caused your accident and its resulting injuries.
For more on premises liability slip and fall claims, read: Slip and Falls Claims in Florida
Hotels and Restaurants
Those in the business of providing hospitality to their customers have a legal duty to protect them from any dangers that may result in personal injury. This means that restaurants must throw away spoiled food and hotels must properly clean showers and tubs, and maintain their pool chlorine levels.
If you or a loved one suffered food poisoning, an allergic reaction to mold or mildew, or were injured by exposure to contaminated water at a hotel or restaurant, then you may have a legal claim against the establishment for your injuries.
Injuries on the Job
If you are hurt on the job in the aftermath of a hurricane, then your accident may be covered by the state workers’ compensation system. You may have a claim to file under your employer’s liability plan.
If you or a loved one was injured by a faulty product, then there may be a legal claim to assert against the manufacturer or distributor of that product. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be caused by generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves, as well as any device that runs on fuel like gasoline, propane, or natural gas. If someone is hurt or killed by exposure to carbon monoxide, then you should ask yourself if the product was working properly or if it malfunctioned and emit the toxic gas. If there was a failure, then the manufacturer may be liable for the injuries that its product has caused.
What Should You Do?
If you or a loved one are hurt or killed in a hurricane-related accident, then you may have a claim for damage against those responsible for your injuries. The fact that a storm has hit the area does not negate the duties imposed by law on stores, landlords, property owners, product manufacturers, and drivers of motor vehicles.
A good piece of advice if you have been injured after a major storm is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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