It’s a nightmare scenario. You’re driving on the highway at the speed of traffic, paying attention to the conditions around you and not seeing anything particularly alarming, when all of a sudden a truck in front of you loses some of its load, or ice slides off the front of a car, or worst of all – a mattress that somebody has strapped to their roof flies off and hits your car and causes an accident. Who is responsible in this scenario?
Legally speaking, this is a challenging situation. There’s no doubt that the driver is responsible – and if the debris came from a commercial vehicle then the company may be found liable too. The problem is, how do you prove it? In the best-case scenario, there are witnesses who saw what happened, or you have a dashcam, or perhaps the driver is aware of what happened and stepped up to take responsibility. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case.
If you can prove where the debris came from then the ability to pursue damages in a personal injury lawsuit is fairly straightforward. Even if the vehicle was a commercial truck with some kind of disclaimer about debris posted on its liftgate, that posting means nothing in a court of law. Waivers of responsibility require agreement from both sides, and a “not our fault” sticker on the back of the truck doesn’t mean that the vehicles with whom the truck is sharing the road have agreed.
Setting aside the complex issue of identifying the owner of the vehicle that caused your personal injury, the legal issue of liability for falling debris is fairly straightforward. If you can prove that the debris came from a specific vehicle then there are laws regarding securing loads in vehicles that make their responsibility clear. Whether a driver is a professional trucker or landscaper, a member of the community who’s moving furniture or a neighbor who failed to clear snow off of the roof of their car, there is a duty to take action to protect those around you. This means that:
- Loads need to be fastened well enough to keep them in place
- Dump trucks and vehicles with open beds need to have covers or be loaded in a way that keeps it from dropping, sifting, leaking or otherwise escaping
- Snow and ice need to be removed from a vehicle in order to prevent it from flying off
These rules are meant to prevent personal injury, but not everybody exhibits the appropriate level of responsibility. If you are hurt in this type of scenario, you need anwers.