Auto Accidents Involving Weather, Sunlight, Darkness, Glare and Headlights. Evidence and Strategy. : LUSENET : NC Injury Law : One Thread

Weather, Sunlight and Darkness in Auto Liability Determinations

In March 2000, the Listserve was asked for considerations in a case involving a turn-in-front which occurred shortly before or shortly after sunset. This post will summarize some of the responses.

Response of Larry Moore(with permission)

It seems to me that three key issues are:

1- What was the heading of the car (i.e., in what direction was it pointed) at the time the sun supposedly interfered with the driver's vision,

2- What was the direction of the sun from the vehicle; and,

3- How many degrees above or below the horizon was the sun at the time.

You can obtain the direction of the street of highway, measured in degrees from true North (as opposed to magnetic North), from your city engineering department. The U.S. Naval Observatory web site referred to by Robert Holmes also has a section captioned "Positions of the Sun and Moon", hotlinked here which can give, for any time of day and for any location on earth, the altitude of the sun (i.e., its angle above or below the horizon) and the azimuth of the sun (i.e., the direction of the sun from your location, measured in degrees from true North).

If, for instance, your accident happened in Durham at around 4:45 pm onDecember 7, 1999, tells you that at 4:45 pm in Durham the sun was at an altitude of 2.3 degrees above the horizon, at an azimuth of 239.9 degrees from true North. (I dealt with this stuff as the navigator on my ship in the Navy, and also as a NROTC assistant professor.)

Durham city engineering can tell you the heading of the highway in degrees from true North at the point of the accident. If the heading of the highway at the site was 270 degrees, you know that the sun was 30 degrees from his view if he was looking straight ahead, and probably was not a factor.

With respect to the question of how close (within how many degrees of your direction of view) the sun must be in order to impair your vision, I suspect an ophthalmologist might be your best source of information, although there is probably government data on this issue somewhere, as well - perhaps with the FAA.

Larry Moore Adams Kleemeier Hagan Hannah & Fouts PLLC 701 Green Valley Road, Suite 100 Greensboro, NC 27408 (336)373-1600

Response of Robert Holmes(with permission)

Some issues to consider:

1. Preservation of evidence and/or quick discovery is important. Most accident reconstructionists can inspect the filaments of a headlight to determine if the light was on at the time of an accident. There are telltale signs. It's my assumption that this testing can only be done on headlights that were cracked by the accident, but I have never asked that question. (Note: I have since been told by other lawyers that the headlight does not have to crack to leave the telltale. I still have not spoken to an engineer on that question.) This testing is pretty quick and inexpensive. I think they just eyeball it under magnification.

2. Sunset and twilight times are available at the US Naval Observatory website at this URL hotlinked here

If you need an official affidavit from the Observatory with seals and ribbons and the like you can mail your request to

US Naval Observatory

Attn: Code AA, 3450 Massachusetts Ave., NW,

Washington, DC 20392-5420.

Telephone 202-653-0020

Several years ago, the fee was $15 and you had to write a letter describing the information you needed, give the case caption, the name of the parties and a statement as to whether the US Government is or may become a party to the action.

Even though it's not germane to your issue, the following is the address of the weather service in Asheville where you can request admissible affidavits of surface weather observations. This is just for those archiving this information.

National Climatic Data Center

Federal Building

37 Battery Park Ave.

Asheville, NC 28801-2733

Phone: 28801-2733

Certified information is $41, uncertified is $8

I will post this response to the archive database . . . eventually.

-- Anonymous, March 14, 2000


Some additional considerations:

Regarding the sunset wreck posts and headlight issues.

GS 20-129 governs headlight usage on roads within the State highway system. According to Coleman v. Burris, 265 NC 446, 114 SE2d 241 (1965) GS 20-129 does not apply where there is no allegation or proof of the street being in the State highway system, so expert testimony may be needed on identifying the entity controlling the relevant portion of highway.

Also, the City Code or other local ordinance may control if the road is not in the State highway system.

See GS 20-131 on adequacy of lighting equipment.

-- Anonymous, March 14, 2000

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