Bad Weather for Some, Good Money for Others

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 5, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, the weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful. Since we've no place to go let it snow, let it snow, let it snow


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: If you're in Arizona, it looks cute. When the weather outside is frightful, some schools, businesses and government buildings shut down for the day. And some of those closings are driven by fear of lawsuits. Heather Nauert is here with more.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: Imagine that. Mother Nature and people want to sue. Some businesses and communities are as worried about their budgets as your safety when the weather is bad. But they don't close during bad weather, somebody could crash their car or slip and fall and sue. That's where the so-called weather consultants make their money.

Joining me right now is George Wright, a weather consultant company — it's called Weather Consulting here in New York. And the big question is George, do people take advantage of bad weather to actually file lawsuits?

GEORGE WRIGHT, PRESIDENT, WRIGHT WEATHER: Well, Heather, they certainly can. I know I've seen situations where people have said they've fallen on snow. But it hasn't snowed in the last couple of weeks.

NAUERT: Okay. So, it snows outside, people are presumably out there shoveling sidewalks now. Business owners are. But if they miss a little patch, someone can actually sue over that?

WRIGHT: That's true. The owner of the property is liable for maintaining that property and making sure that it is free of ice or snow. And what I do is I reconstruct past weather conditions and I testify in court.

NAUERT: Now usually peoples' homeowner insurance policies will cover for something like that, because it isn't completely unheard of. But how does someone exactly make a case in court that, “Oh there was an inch of ice and I slipped and fell and, therefore, the store owner was negligent?” It seems like it is going a little bit too far?

WRIGHT: Well, often times, we go back and look at the actual weather forecast that occurred, and we look at the past weather conditions and if there was that possibly that the owner could be liable. Also... we have to know how much lead time the owner had in order to clear that snow.

NAUERT: Let me back up for just one second. What kind of case do people try to make in court? They just simply say that the storeowner or the school district was negligent because they didn't get all the snow up. Is that what you're saying?

WRIGHT: That's true. And often times they have numerous injuries. They have broken bones. They have problems with recurring headaches. And often times the weather is a factor in their slip and fall.

NAUERT: Okay. So, your company is out there and your company actually consults on weather. Explain that.

WRIGHT: Well, a lot of my clients certainly want to know how much snow is going to fall at a certain time. They want to know the consistency of the storm. We provide more information than is available for the private media. So, we do have a lot of cases where the snow is falling. They want to know exactly how much snow is going to occur, the consistency of the storm, if the snow is very heavy.

NAUERT: Yes. But George, you know the meteorologists out there, no offense to Steve Doocy or anybody, but they don't always exactly get it right. So how can they expect you guys to get it right and make decisions based on that?

WRIGHT: Well, what we do is we try to provide more detail than what is available out there by the media. We provide how much snow will fall at a given time at an hour-by-hour basis for the exact address or location. And we also provide them information on the consistency of the storm. For example, if the snow is very, very dry, then the snow may be blowing after the storm has passed the area. And they want to know that. And they also want to know what the consistency of the storm is in order to remove it from the roadways.

NAUERT: So, what, then, are companies supposed to do with that information, after they find out the consistency of the snow and all that stuff?

WRIGHT: Well, they can better make decisions on employee scheduling and also how much overtime may be budgeted to remove the snow, and also whether or not that the storm will be significant enough to bring in extra people.

NAUERT: So what is it that businesses need to know, now that we've got this big snowstorm here on the East Coast?

WRIGHT: Well, they certainly need to know when the snow will be changing over to sleet or freezing rain. That will cut down the accumulations. They also need to know when the snow will end. And also whether or not it will be windy following the storm, because often times road departments clear a roadway or you might clear your sidewalk and the snow could be blowing back onto the surface. And that could result in an icy situation and you could be liable if someone does slip and fall on your property.

NAUERT: I guess the moral of the story is have a lot of insurance and look out for those lawyers and greedy old geezers who might want to make a quick buck. All right. Thanks.

GIBSON: All right, Heather. Well, you noticed he didn't tell us when this snowstorm is ending.

NAUERT: Right, right.

GIBSON: We didn't pay him so he's not telling.

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