Who is Responsible for Road Debris Damage?


Cassandra Nguy

There may be multiple parties responsible for road debris damage depending on the situation. If you were hurt by flying objects from another vehicle, that driver’s negligence to secure their load may be responsible. If an unsafe road caused your injuries, the government entity responsible for the area’s road conditions may be at-fault.

Sometimes, you don’t know who is responsible for road debris damage since the party at-fault may be long gone. At that point, you’ll have to rely on your insurance to cover your costs and other parties involved if you were responsible.

Don’t let negligent drivers and government entities get away with injuring you and your loved ones. Hire an auto accident attorney to legally protect yourself while raising your chances of a settlement. Road debris damage is a serious concern that can endanger others when negligent parties are not held responsible.

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Table of Contents

What is Road Debris?

Road debris includes any foreign objects on the road such as spilled lubricant, gravel, tire remains, and metal scraps. Unsafe road conditions are a risk that can cause bodily injury, property damage, and potential death.

Sometimes flying road debris comes from loosely-tied loads on heavy vehicles like pickup trucks and commercial vehicles.

Sometimes, debris can be much more dangerous during hazardous weather such as hail storms, intense rain, and other weather conditions that can be a threat when driving.

For instance, trees or poles may fall during a storm, blocking multiple lanes and intersections. Reporting fallen objects to your local police is important to prevent road debris accidents and unnecessary traffic.

Avoidable vs. Unavoidable Road Debris

Road debris is separated into two categories: avoidable and unavoidable road debris.

Avoidable road debris is often encountered on roads where it could be easily avoided unless the driver was acting negligently. Loose debris from the side of a highway may constitute avoidable road debris. Objects from a construction zone with multiple signage ahead may also be considered avoidable road debris.

Even though these objects are avoidable, this doesn’t mean you don’t have a legal claim when another party caused your collision. Even if you’re partially at-fault, you may still qualify for compensation depending on the type of accident and how liable the other party was for your losses.

Unavoidable road debris is objects that come flying in motion during an accident that cannot be reliably avoided. These objects could be:

  • Falling rocks
  • Cargo falling from large trucks
  • Dangerous debris from the weather
  • Loose parts from vehicles

You can seek compensation for hospital bills, lost wages, and vehicle damages if your injuries were caused by an unavoidable road debris accident.

What Causes a Road Debris Accident?

Road debris accidents can be caused by any foreign object that doesn’t belong on the road. The types of debris that may lead to accidents are:

  • Rocks and gravel
  • Automotive parts from a prior accident (tires, mufflers, scraps, etc.)
  • Glass from broken bottles or windows
  • Tree branches
  • Road signs, guardrails, streetlights, etc.
  • Construction and work zone equipment
  • Building materials
  • Furniture, appliances; household items

According to the AAA Foundation, road debris contributed to more than 200,000 police-reported crashes between 2011-14. Further conclusions about road debris accidents from this report include:

  • Road debris accidents have resulted in about 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths.
  • About 37% of all deaths were caused by drivers swerving to avoid hitting objects.
  • Two-thirds of debris-related crashes resulted in objects falling from a vehicle due to improperly-secured loads or maintenance.
  • More than 1 in 3 crashes were road debris accidents occurring between 10:00 a.m. and 3:59 p.m.

Drivers may lower their chances getting caught in road debris accidents by driving defensively when objects are spotted along the road. Avoiding reckless driving habits like tailgating can increase your reaction time to properly avoid loose rubble on high-speed environments like a highway.

Proper vehicle maintenance is also key to preventing loose vehicle parts from ending up on the road. Worn tires can suddenly burst and leave potentially dangerous rubber on the ground. Exhaust systems can rust and corrode, leading to them suddenly falling off while driving.

What to Do If You Hit Road Debris

If you accidentally hit road debris, you may follow these steps on how to handle the situation and protect yourself from sustaining injuries.

Firstly, pull over your vehicle on the right side of the road or in a safe area away from traffic. Check yourself and your passengers if anyone was injured during the accident. Call 911 or a local emergency service if someone requires immediate medical attention.

Afterward, the next steps are important when determining who is at-fault and gathering any evidence.

  1. Report the incident—Once everyone’s safe, call the police and make a report. Inform officers of your location and give all relevant information they ask for. The police will document the incident and file an official report you can use for your legal claim. Then, contact your insurance company to alert them of the accident.
  2. Gather Evidence—Finding evidence and getting witnesses or bystanders to assist in identifying the responsible party massively helps your legal claim. Get their contact details and take pictures or videos of your car, road debris, other parties’ cars, and the surrounding area to document the incident.
  3. Find Legal Help—Consider finding an auto accident attorney to help with your claim and see whether you can seek compensation. An attorney experienced in traffic incidents and personal injury can help you explore legal options that can help you acquire compensation for your pain and loss.

Insurance companies are only interested in benefiting their bottom-line, seeking to lowball your settlement when they get the chance. Don’t let that happen and find legal representation that can fight for what you truly deserve.

Should You Call the Police After a Road Debris Accident?

You should call the police if anyone sustained injuries during a road debris accident or if the vehicle sustained major damage. It’s vital to call the police and file an official police report to help you when you file a claim with your insurance and an attorney.

How to Prove Fault in a Road Debris Accident

Road debris accidents are often hazards that lie in the road and can be easily avoidable, or objects falling from the back of a vehicle in front of the trailing car. Each scenario must be examined to prove who is at-fault in a road debris accident.

Scenario 1: Trucking companies may be liable for accidents resulting from their loose loads falling off the road. These businesses are responsible for following the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) security protocols for securing cargo.

Regular inspection is necessary to ensure they are free of hazardous debris. This is the same for personal drivers who don’t secure their load properly. About 37% of deaths from road debris damage resulted from drivers who swerved away from the object to avoid impact.

Scenario 2: Government entities such as the city, state, or federal departments are responsible for maintaining safe roads and highways including roadsides, shoulders, and median strips. The government may be liable for the accident if your vehicle was damaged by road debris like cracked and damaged roads or fallen trees/branches.

One especially dangerous road condition to avoid is crumbling potholes, which can damage your tires and suspension if hit.

Scenario 3: Drivers who could easily have avoided debris on the road but were either distracted or impaired to do so could be held liable for their accident.

For example, avoidable leftover highway debris may have caused you to get into an accident and involve drivers around you. Unless you find the negligent driver who left the debris and you back up your claim, you would likely be held accountable.

Proving fault in a road debris accident can be difficult unless your case is examined by an auto accident attorney. It’s better to consult an attorney to help find who is at-fault in your claim.

Is Hitting Road Debris an At-Fault Accident?

This may depend on how the situation occurs. In the likely scenario where the debris is in motion such as items falling from the trailing vehicle with no time to avoid, you are not at-fault. However, if the debris on the road can be easily avoided, you may be at-fault.

Some insurance policies have clauses stating that you must make an effort to avoid any loss. If you were negligent in preventing loss to your vehicle and surroundings, you may be found at-fault for the crash.

What if You Swerve to Avoid Road Debris and Hit Another Car?

If you tried to avoid road debris by swerving but accidentally hit another car, you may be liable for causing the accident. All state drivers are expected to navigate the roads defensively and prepare for unexpected dangers by providing leeways to an accident.

However, in a less likely scenario, you could find the negligent driver responsible for causing the road debris accident, you may support your claim and get compensated for your loss.

Does Insurance Cover Damage from Road Debris?

Every state conforms to its own separate laws when it comes to auto accidents. Insurance companies have different ways to deal with road debris accidents for no-fault and at-fault states.

For no-fault states, you’ll have to file a claim with your insurance company no matter who is at-fault. If your insurance policy has personal injury protection (PIP) and collision coverage, your insurer pays for economic damages like repair and medical bills you sustained.

If you were severely injured, you may sue the at-fault party if PIP is not enough to cover your losses. Determining the type of road debris that caused your accident is key to this step.

For at-fault states, whoever was liable for your accident is responsible for compensating you for your damages. You would file a claim with your insurance company and the other insurance company will recover damages if the other driver was responsible.

Road debris damage can be easily misconstrued by your insurance company as negligence on your behalf, reducing your potential damages.

Teaming up with a lawyer is essential if you live in an at-fault state. The more legal assistance you have in proving liability, the better your chances of a higher settlement and a smoother legal process.

Types of Damages in a Road Debris Accident

The types of damages in a road debris accident can differ in severity. Road debris may cause further collisions with other vehicles, like sideswiping a neighboring vehicle. The types of damages or injuries you may sustain are:

  • Fractures—depending on the severity, fractures can be very painful and require immediate medical attention.
  • Cuts and lacerations—road debris accidents can cause sharp objects to cut you such as shattered windows. Injuries may cut deep, affecting your blood vessels, ligaments, tendons, nerves, muscles, or bones.
  • Abrasions—occur when skin scrapes or rubs off due to rough road surfaces or debris.
  • Bruises—when impacted by debris, damage can range from mild to severe, causing intense pain, discomfort, swelling, bleeding, and discoloration.
  • Burns—when your vehicle catches fire from exhaust pipes or engine parts, you may sustain burns that can cause disfigurement or permanent scarring.
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)—head trauma from direct force on the dashboard or windshield can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, and memory loss.
  • Whiplash—a common injury sustained when the head jerks forward and backward rapidly, leaving acute pain and suffering.
  • Spinal cord injuries—severe injuries that can result in partial or complete paralysis, affecting the victim’s health and quality of life.

Cover Your Road Debris Damages With an Auto Accident Attorney

If encounter a road debris accident and sustained injuries, find an auto accident attorney to cover your road debris damages. LegalASAP can try to find a local experienced auto attorney within your state.

Fill out this quick short consultation form, and see if your auto claim qualifies for compensation. For any questions or inquiries, you may call our hotline at 888-927-3080, and we’ll do our best to accommodate your concerns.

Cassandra Nguy

Cassandra Tran Nguy is a legal writer living in Los Angeles, California. She graduated cum laude from California State University, Northridge with a B.A. in English Creative Writing and a minor in Marketing. Visit her online profile at linkedin.com