Can a Farmer Be Sued for Dust Blowing Off Their Property?
On Monday, May 1, more than 70 vehicles crashed along a 6-mile stretch of Interstate 55. The incident was so spectacular that it made national headlines. Dust from nearby farms blew onto the roadway causing severe visibility issues for drivers. This resulted in crashes that caused injury to drivers. Can the drivers sue the farmers for causing the visibility issues that led to the crash? The issue isn’t so cut-and-dried. It’s complicated. In many cases, weather systems are considered acts of God, which individuals are not held responsible for. So in these cases, a determination must be made as to whether or not the farmer or farmers contributed negligence to the situation. If the plaintiffs can establish that negligence was a factor, then the farmers may be held liable.
Elements of negligence
Specifically, plaintiffs would have to establish that the defendant farmers failed to do something that a reasonable person would do. In other words, it would help if such an event happened before and causing visibility issues to drivers was foreseeable. In a case like this, it helps to have regulations that state that farmers are supposed to do such-and-such to avoid causing visibility issues along state roads. In the case mentioned above, drivers had near-zero visibility. If there is no regulation and farmers tend not to mitigate these issues with specific techniques, then it may be very hard to hold the farmers individually liable for any accidents that occurred.
However, the scope of the problem is something that will need to be addressed. Dust from the farms caused 70 vehicles to crash over the course of a single day. That is a spectacular amount of adverse events related to a single cause.
The other major problem for the plaintiffs is: Which farms caused the problem? We know that the farms were recently tilled and dusted. Then a windstorm broke out causing several vehicles to crash and reducing visibility to near zero. It is unclear if anyone was seriously injured in the crashes, but if they were, they might want to file a lawsuit against the farm.
In some cases, individuals can be held responsible for creating road obstructions. For example, if an old tree falls from their property and onto the road, they would have some responsibility for that. If they created a road obstruction with construction on their property, then they would also be responsible for that. In this case, the farms created a type of road obstruction which made the stretch impassable to drivers. The visibility issues were directly related to the farms. But it remains unclear that the farmer’s contributed an actionable form of negligence unless the incident had happened before or there is a regulation in place that dictates how farms dust crops along roadways.
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