While many Floridians love the Tampa Bay Lightning, most are not a big fan of real lightning. It forces us to go inside when we’re having fun, looks frightening when it cracks through the stormy sky, and as some recent incidents have tragically reminded us, can be deadly.
What is Lightning?
It might look scary, but the science behind lightning is actually pretty interesting. Lightning occurs when static charges build up inside a rain cloud. Water droplets in the lower part of the cloud move upward and collide with ice and hail in the upper part of the cloud. This causes the negative charges at the bottom to meet the positive charges at the top. When they come together, we see an electric spark—lightning! Lightning can reach up to 27,000 degrees Celsius, which is five times hotter than the sun’s surface. The intense heat causes the air around the spark to rapidly expand and vibrate, which creates thunder.
Recent Lightning Incidents
Since it’s so hot and powerful, it’s no wonder that lightning can pose serious risks for people on the ground. These risks became a horrific reality last week in Volusia County last week when a motorcyclist was killed by a bolt of lightning. The direct impact burned through his helmet, tearing through the hard outer shell and inner insulation that normally serves to protect a motorcyclist. Later on in the same week, two giraffes at a safari park in Loxahatchee were killed by a lighting strike.
Thankfully, fatalities from lightning strikes are relatively rare. However, contact with a lightning strike is likely to lead to serious, life-threatening injuries, including:
- Heart attacks
- Blunt trauma
- Neurological disorders
- Muscle injuries
- Blindness and eye injuries
- Skin lesions
- Serious burns
A lighting strike does not have to be a direct hit to be dangerous. In fact, most lighting strike injuries occur when lighting strikes an object near a victim. For example, if someone takes shelter under a tree during a storm and the tree is struck by lightning, the person could still be hit by the electric current that travels through the tree. This is why you’ve probably heard to avoid tall objects during a thunderstorm.
When you see lighting, it is important to get inside as quickly as possible. During a storm, the best place to be is inside a safe building and away from any electric equipment. If you are unable to get inside, stay low to the ground, as lighting is more likely to strike a taller object. Avoid objects like trees, poles, and anything metallic, like a fence.
Weather and Workers Compensation
For people who work outdoors, like in landscaping or construction, lighting can be a particular danger. If they are injured by a lighting strike, it might fall under workers’ compensation. While lighting can’t always be predicted, employers should still take steps to protect their employees. For example, they should have a plan in place for employees to follow during dangerous conditions, or should not force employees to work in an uncovered area during clearly risky conditions.
Similarly, public places might also be partially responsible if someone is struck by lightning. While many public places put the liability on the visitor, often with signs that let them know that they are using the area at their own risk, public places can still take steps to warn people about dangerous weather conditions. For instance, some beaches use a flag system to alert beachgoers about dangers from rip currents to sharks in the area, while a park might have a ranger who goes around the park to tell people to take shelter. Depending on the situation, a public space that fails to adequately warn patrons about a present danger could be partially liable for a lighting strike injury, though cases like these are very complex and extremely difficult, since patrons often assume much of the risk.
Particularly throughout the rainy summer months, lighting safety—and liability—is something that every Floridian should be aware of. Whether you’re at work, the beach, or just enjoying the outdoors, have a plan in place for when lighting strikes. That way, you’ll be able to safely watch this mesmerizing natural phenomenon from the safety on the indoors!
The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.