Road debris is an unfortunate reality all drivers deal with. Whether it comes from other vehicles, surrounding natural formations, or just miscellaneous trash and litter, it can be a hazard to passing motorists. It’s quite a common one too. According to American Automobile Association estimates road debris is a cause in an average of 50,000 crashes a year. Their findings showed road debris as a clear and present threat to any driver. This is especially true on public highways, where high speeds add another dimension to the danger and cleanup is more difficult. We’re talking a look at this issue, some steps you can take to protect yourself, and how it can further complicate already-thorny questions of fault, liability, and negligence.
Any object left in the road, intentionally or unintentionally, qualifies as road debris. This represents a hazard to drivers regardless of factors like size and weight. Common smaller categories of road debris like plastic garbage bags or cardboard boxes may seem like no threat but may hold jagged metal, glass, or rocks to crack your windshield or puncture your tires. Even an empty plastic bag may become stuck to your windshield and impair your vision. Avoiding this debris is instrumental to minimizing your risk of injury behind the wheel.
Larger debris can be much more apparently dangerous and is usually much easier to spot. Fallen trees and branches can be a common occurrence during severe storms. Trees, along with light and telephone poles, can even block multiple lanes of traffic if they fall. Leftover equipment from road construction, including traffic cones and other dividers, can also be debris if not properly disposed of or removed from the work site.
The majority of road-debris related accidents are caused by objects falling off other vehicles. This can mean tires or parts of side panels fall off the vehicle. More common are large pieces of cargo such as furniture or household appliances coming unsecured from trucks and causing an accident. This sort of debris is classified as “unavoidable,” and the driver of the vehicle with improperly secured cargo can be held liable for any damages caused by the resulting accident. As in any other vehicular accident, a police report, witness statements, and information about the negligent driver and their vehicle will be instrumental in any effort to secure compensation.
Conversely, debris already present in the road at the time of the accident will be considered “avoidable.” From your insurance company’s point of view, if you had control of your vehicle you should have been able to avoid the debris, and therefore avoid the accident. It will be extremely different to hold another party liable for these kinds of accidents. You’ll need to find who placed the debris in the road in the first place, which can be next to impossible. Furthermore you’ll have to prove that the negligent party knew about the debris and did not remove it in a reasonable time frame. Theoretically a construction company or government entity (most likely the state Department of Transportation) could be held liable in an avoidable debris case, but establishing negligence can be difficult.
It should be noted as well that if you cause an accident while swerving to avoid road debris, the insurance company will almost certainly consider you at fault for the accident. If you must swerve to avoid debris, you should make every effort to do so safely. Even colliding with a guardrail could mean thousands of dollars in damages.
If you’ve been involved in any kind of car accident, there are a few things you should do to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you. First, check for any injuries and call 911 if necessary. Then, move your vehicle out of the way of traffic if possible. Once you’re safe, exchange insurance and contact information with any other drivers involved in the accident. Lastly, take pictures of the scene and get witnesses’ statements if possible.
By following these steps, you can help make sure that everyone stays safe and that the accident is properly documented. Afterwards, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to review your case. The lawyers at Malloy Law Offices, LLC are car accident specialists. We can review your case free of charge and advise you of your best course of action. Don’t face the insurance companies alone. Contact us today for your free consultation.