Who Is Responsible for Damages and Injuries Caused by Road Debris?
November 30, 2021
There are many reasons why cars crash. Some of these issues get a lot of media coverage: drunk driving, impaired driving, and distracted driving have been the subject of comprehensive public awareness campaigns. However, there are many other causes of accidents, and drivers are not always aware of the many risks they face on the road. One surprisingly common cause of car crashes is road debris.
Many accidents happen every year because a driver cannot avoid something left in the roadway. These accidents can also occur when a driver swerves to avoid debris in the road but hits another driver instead. Learn more about how often road debris accidents happen, what they truly cost, who is legally responsible for damages caused by road debris, and what compensation injury victims can collect after a road debris accident.
What Is Road Debris?
There are many different types of debris that can be in the roadway.
Some of the most common include:
- Construction materials (bricks, plywood, nails, etc.)
- Pieces of blown tires
- Trash other drivers threw out their windows (food wrappers, coffee cups, etc.)
- Mattresses (most drivers do not secure them properly when moving)
- Asphalt, concrete, and pebbles
- Road salt and other deicing materials
- Trees and branches
- Hay bales (like mattresses, these are usually not secured well)
- Broken glass
- Metal debris (nails, screws, etc.)
These are just a few of the most common types of debris. There are many types of objects that can be in the roadway, and drivers must prepare themselves to avoid them all to prevent accidents. Drivers who fail to do so can be held liable for the damages and injuries they cause. Drivers should also use situational awareness to look for debris that is most likely to be found.
For example, it is not unusual to see Christmas trees on the road during the holiday season. Many drivers fail to secure a tree to their vehicle correctly before leaving the sales lot or taking it to the dump at the end of the season.
The Facts About Road Debris Accidents
The AAA Foundation Reports that road debris is responsible for over fifty thousand serious accidents every year. (These are crashes that are severe enough to be reported to law enforcement.) These accidents also caused an estimated 125 deaths – and nearly ten thousand injuries – every year. Accidents involving road debris were about four times more likely to occur on interstate highways.
Interestingly, drivers involved in accidents involving debris were more likely to be men. Among all car accidents, men are more likely to be involved, but in accidents involving debris, men were an additional twenty percent more likely to be involved in the crash.
The True Cost of Traffic Accidents
The CDC reports that the economic impact of all traffic accidents in the U.S. was $75 billion. (Economic impact only accounts for medical care and lost productivity at work – it does not account for victims’ pain and suffering.) According to NHTSA, the total economic impact of accidents in the U.S. was $242 billion in a recent year.
The difference in these estimates is surprising: in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Americans started driving far less, and there was a corresponding drop in accidents in the following couple of years. More recently, the number of travel miles and accidents increased once again. In fact, the NHTSA reported about one million more accidents in a recent year than just after the recession. These estimated financial losses show just how difficult it is to project the true value of car accidents with any degree of accuracy.
It is not possible to determine the exact dollar amount of every road accident that occurs in the United States in any given year. It is also not possible to accurately value the exact amount of damage caused by road debris. What is clear, however, is that road debris causes accidents and fatal injuries that cost millions of dollars every year.
Traffic accident injuries cause property damage, lost wages, and medical bills. Employers must bear the costs of lost productivity in the workplace. Injury victims must bear the non-economic losses of the accident: lost sleep, physical pain, strained family relationships, and a decrease in the overall quality of their lives. Negligent drivers are responsible for paying for all of these losses. It is crucial to hold them accountable for the damage that they cause.
The Compensation that Injury Victims Need and Deserve
Injury victims need to hold negligent drivers accountable for the losses they cause. This not only enforces the victim’s legal right to fair compensation for their injuries but also helps deter negligent driving behaviors among all drivers. There are many other losses (both financial and emotional) that victims might collect compensation for. Here are a few of the most common:
#1. Property Damage
A driver who causes an accident is responsible for paying for the damage to your vehicle. They might also be responsible for any damage to the property inside the vehicle: for example, if the collision crushed a cell phone. Drivers are also responsible for the losses associated with vehicle repairs, including the cost of a rental car or compensation for the loss of use of the vehicle.
Most injury victims can arrange for compensation for their property damage without the help of an attorney. If, however, the other driver’s insurance company will not agree to make reasonable payments for property damage, an injury lawyer can help the victim resolve these disputes.
#2. Medical Bills
Negligent drivers are responsible for the costs of all medical care that is necessary because of the accident they caused. This includes ambulance and ER bills, surgery and inpatient hospitalization, consultations with specialists, pain management services, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and all other treatment that the victim’s medical providers have recommended. In some cases, these claims are relatively straightforward.
The injury lawyer provides an itemized statement of all the victim’s medical bills, and the insurance company issues payment for the total amount. In other cases, the insurance company challenges the amount of the medical bills. They might claim that they are too high, that the victim got “too much” treatment, or that the victim made their injuries worse. Injury victims must hire an accident lawyer to fight back against these arguments.
#3. Lost Wages
Injury victims can obtain compensation for all of the wages they lose as a result of an accident. This includes time off from work, regardless of whether the victim used PTO or was simply not paid for the time. It can also include overtime, bonuses, commissions, and other forms of employee compensation. If there is any compensation the victims should have received from their employer, but for the accident, their injury lawyer can prove the value of the loss and demand compensation from the defendant’s insurance company.
#4. Pain and Suffering
Car accident victims suffer a wide range of intangible losses as a result of their injuries. This includes physical pain, emotional suffering due to trauma, lost sleep, lost wages, missing important family events, and other losses that are difficult to value. Insurance companies target these losses and try to make lowball settlement offers, specifically because pain and suffering is so hard to value.
An injury victim rarely knows what their pain and suffering is truly worth. Injury lawyers handle these claims every day, and they know what they are reasonably worth. Attorneys know what similar cases have settled for, how a jury is likely to view the case, and what factors are likely to increase or decrease the value of a particular case. Injury victims must get this independent valuation from an attorney who is on their side.
Insurance companies actively work against victims’ legal interests to pay as little as possible.
#5. Future Losses
Injury victims are also entitled to compensation for the losses they will incur in the future as a result of the accident. This includes the cost of ongoing medical care, any decreases in their earning capacity, and the pain and suffering they will endure in the future because of their injuries. But how can one prove the value of losses that have not yet occurred? Here, too, it is essential to work with an experienced car accident lawyer.
Attorneys know how to work with expert witnesses to prove the value of future losses. Lifecare planners can project the types of medical care that will be needed and what it will cost. Vocational experts can testify that a victim cannot go back to work. An economist can project the value of all the wages the victim would have earned between the time of the accident and their expected retirement age.
(Victims are also entitled to compensation for employment benefits they would have earned, such as employer contributions to health insurance premiums and retirement accounts.)
Victims can also collect compensation for the pain and suffering they will endure in the future after the case reaches a settlement or another resolution.
Who Is Responsible For Accidents Due to Road Debris?
Many individuals and companies can bear legal responsibility (or liability) for damages caused by road debris. Here are some of the most common defendants in a road debris accident case:
#1. Other Drivers
Most car accidents are the fault of one or more drivers. Drivers have a legal obligation to operate their vehicles with “reasonable prudence.” If they do not, they can be negligent and ordered to pay for injuries that they cause. There are many ways in which a driver can be liable for damages due to road debris. Imagine, for example, that someone is moving a mattress but does not secure it to the vehicle. That driver can be liable for injuries caused if the mattress flies off their car into traffic.
#2. Truck Drivers and Transportation Companies
Many road debris cases involve large trucks – often those carrying hay, gravel, and other cargo that is likely to fly off. These truck drivers can be held liable for damages caused by their cargo. The transportation companies that own the trucks and hire the driver can be liable, as well. Many of these trucks carry signs warning that they are not responsible for damage caused by flying rocks, debris, etc.
This does not mean that the driver no longer has the responsibility to act carefully. Even with such a warning, an experienced auto accident attorney can still prove that the truck driver or owner is liable for a victim’s injuries.
#3. Auto Manufacturers
The United States has strong consumer protection laws – especially when it comes to vehicles. Auto manufacturers are subject to strict liability. This means that they are liable for any injuries caused by a defect in the vehicle. The injury victim does not even have to prove that the manufacturer was negligent – only that they were using the vehicle as intended when its defect caused an accident. These strong laws encourage manufacturers to make their vehicles as safe as possible.
So how does this work in a road debris case? Suppose that someone sold a pickup truck with a defective latch on the tailgate. The driver loads up the bed and closes the tailgate, having no way of knowing that it will open unexpectedly, which it does in the middle of traffic. All the cargo in the bed of the truck spills onto the road and causes an accident. In this scenario, the manufacturer of the truck can be liable for the accident because it sold a defective vehicle.
#4. Negligent Construction Companies
Many road debris accidents involve construction materials: nails, screws, wood, rebar, roofing materials, and even heavy machinery. A construction company can be liable if its workers negligently leave debris in the road.
No matter who might be responsible for your accident and road debris, you should always have the necessary legal representation from a skilled car accident lawyer.
“These lawyers are not only very efficient, but caring as well. I would not hesitate to refer them to anyone.”
MATTHEW T. / FORMER CLIENT