How do weather and the law interrelate? Mark Twain is claimed to have said, “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” In reality, humans have been trying to affect the weather or at least address the impact for all of known history. Recent events such as Hurricane Katrina and the current drought conditions throughout the Southwest have brought the weather and disaster relief to the forefront of national attention. However, federal disaster relief and its development since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s are but one aspect of the relationship between law and weather. Insurance coverage or lack thereof, regulation of businesses and agencies which depend on disasters, crimes such as looting and murders using the weather as the weapon, the development of the National Weather Service and warning systems and the legal support for those systems, environmental concerns such as forest fires or global warning and the Kyoto Protocol, and liability for inaccurate weather forecasts or for failure to keep sidewalks clear are all legal topics with a weather focus. This course will explore the various areas in which weather and the law intersect in the United States, including both current laws and the development of legal theories and protections as a result of historical events such as farmers rioting in Kansas in the 1930s, the Donora Fog of 1948, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and the Blizzards of 1878. There are no prerequisites for this course.
Students will view at least two weather-related films outside of class time and prepare 3-5 page papers assessing the legal ramifications of the weather events in the films. Each student will select a research topic with approval of the instructor and will perform the required research to prepare a well-constructed and well-reasoned analysis of the legal issue(s) presented by the topic. Students will also present their research findings to the class during a class meeting to share findings and to solicit feedback and suggestions from classmates.