Personal Injury From Road Debris: Who Is at Fault?

April 10, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

road debris causing an auto accident blog photo

Just ahead, two semi drivers have no choice but to run over metal pieces scattered in their lanes. This time, tires traveling 65 miles per hour kick a hefty chunk of the debris through your windshield. All you know is that you’re hurt. Later, you’ll learn that it’s the kind of auto accident that happens all too often and leaves all parties wondering who is at fault for injuries caused by road debris.

A Few Road Debris Crash Statistics

In 2016, AAA released unsettling statistics demonstrating the risks of unsecured loads, breakaway objects, litter and other debris to public safety. Over the course of four years, from 2011 to 2014, roadway debris caused more than 243,000 reported crashes. More than 47,000 people were injured, and 616 people died.

Since the statistics purposely excluded accidents from “debris associated with a recent previous crash, construction-related debris in work zones, or debris outside of the travel lane,” total numbers could have been even higher. Still, the question remains—who is at fault?

Establishing Fault in a Debris-Related Auto Accident

Establishing responsibility for a debris-related accident is rarely simple. The owner may be an individual or a company, and the debris may be flying or stationary, but conditions may still make telling who is at fault difficult.

If you see debris fall from the source:

Some of the most dangerous cases are those when drivers are close enough to actually witness objects or materials falling from a vehicle. For example, if a mattress takes flight from a pickup loaded with home goods and furniture, the driver who failed to secure the load is often responsible for reasonable consequences that flow from that action/omission. Likewise, if a commercial work vehicle loses a portion of its load or a part of the truck, for example, that driver or the company who owns the truck will often bear all or a portion of the fault. Exact responsibility will depend on a number of circumstances.

If you witness debris falling from someone’s vehicle, documentation is essential if at all possible. Make and model of the vehicle, color and license plate are all identifiers that a quick, clear photo or video can capture and that can later serve as evidence.

If the debris is simply there:

Unfortunately, many times, the source of any particular debris is many miles down the road, perhaps even unaware of their loss. Meanwhile, the hazard lies in the road or at the side until traffic levels pressure someone to run over it or hit it. Once it’s drawn into action, it may shatter, bounce or ricochet from vehicle to vehicle.

Sometimes, recent debris may be attributable through markings, packing or the simple fact of what it is—clumps of sugar cane, for example. More often, it’s just there and could have belonged to any number of drivers—shredded semi tires, for example. That leaves responsibility even more complicated.

If poor road conditions are a hazard:

Sometimes, the road itself can be the problem or make an already bad situation worse. Giant potholes, uneven pavement, sudden drops or hard edges can cause mechanical failures or send a vehicle out of control. Likewise, storm debris, tree branches, weather or other accumulations left on roadways impact safety. Lack of shoulders, restrictive or missing guardrails or steep roadside ditches leave motorists with nowhere to go when circumstance adds unavoidable obstacles.

In Louisiana, motorists can report hazards, dangerous debris or unsafe road conditions like potholes or accumulations to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, its Motorist Assistance Patrol—MAP—or to area law enforcement. Sometimes, however, when a repeatedly reported problem remains and a crash occurs because of it, the owner of the road or the agency tasked with maintaining it may be responsible.

How To Get Compensation for an Auto Accident Caused by Road Debris

Hazardous debris can be just about anything—rocks, wood, furniture, produce, spills and even accumulations of dirt or mud. Unfortunately, motorists, insurance companies, governmental agencies, private companies and corporations rarely see eye to eye when a hazard causes damages and injuries. Too often, people are left to deal with the aftermath on their own.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’ve been involved in a crash due to road debris or hazardous road conditions, you need legal representation to ensure you’re treated fairly. At Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik, we use our knowledge and experience to make your voice heard. Call us at 800-356-6776 to schedule a free consultation, or request a free consultation at our website.