Cargo and equipment falling from vehicles is a common happenstance on the road, and one that needs to be considered heavily as you’re driving from point A to point B.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths resulted from accidents caused by road debris back in 2014, with two-thirds of road debris accidents being from objects that fell from trucks.
So, who can be held liable for these types of incidents? How can you avoid getting into these accidents in the first place?
The most common types of accident-causing road debris are:
- Detached vehicle parts
- Loose or unsecured objects such as furniture, appliances, bricks, tools, etc.
- Tow trailers that become unhitched
Causes of objects falling from other vehicles
There are two main causes for objects falling from other vehicles:
Negligence can lead to horrible accidents. Perhaps the driver hauling the items did not secure them properly. Perhaps they didn’t care to secure the objects and believed that they would be too heavy to fall off. Perhaps the cargo wasn’t hitched well.
The person injured can receive compensation for their injuries if they were able to prove that the objects falling from the vehicle were due to negligence. The victim will need to be able to prove the following:
- That the driver was responsible for the cargo, and that he was supposed to protect other drivers/pedestrians from the cargo by preventing the cargo from falling
- That the driver failed to secure the cargo, resulting in the breach of duty
- That said breach of duty resulted in the accident
- That the plaintiff suffered injuries caused by the accident and thus the breach of duty
Malfunctioning of a secure part
Sometimes, there is a part used to secure the cargo that malfunctions. This can lead to the cargo unhinging itself and falling onto the road.
What can prevent objects from falling from the vehicle?
- Covering the haul with secured tarps
- Utilizing thick rope and vehicle straps
- Lighten the load! Don’t overload the vehicle
- Check the loads whenever you make stops
What you can do to avoid falling objects
- Avoid tailgating so that you can make the necessary evasive maneuvers
- Leave enough space open on one side of the vehicle so that you can swerve to avoid the debris
- Remain alert at all times
- Steer clear of any and all distractions
Who can be held liable for objects falling from the road?
To put it simply, the driver carrying the cargo in their vehicle is typically held liable for that cargo, so if the cargo falls and injures someone, it is assumed that the driver will be held liable for the injuries of the victims.
Res Ipsa Loquitur
Res ipsa loquitur is tort law Latin for “the thing speaks for itself” and is the principle that highlights that the accident resulted from negligence in the absence of any direct evidence.
Objects falling from the vehicle and harming drivers or pedestrians can fall under res ipsa loquitur, meaning that if there was no evidence available, the act itself can be considered negligent. However, not all courts will apply res ipsa loquitur to the case. What constitutes an accident as res ipsa loquitur is the following:
- Under the driver’s control. The driver of the vehicle must have been in control of the vehicle at the time of the accident.
- Out of the victim’s control. If the victim did not contribute in any fashion (such as if they did not follow too closely to the vehicle) to the accident.
- Common sense. It is assumed that the accident that causes the injury can only be caused with negligence
What if someone hits me from behind while I slammed the brakes to avoid falling cargo?
If someone rear-ends you as you abruptly stop to avoid a couple of bikes that fell from the back of a car and both victims were injured, chances are the driver of the car with the bikes strapped to the car would be held liable because res ipsa loquitur can be applied to this incident, as the bikes were under the driver’s care, the lack of security for the bikes fall under the responsibility of the driver, and the injured did not contribute to the injury.
Can the shipper be held liable when objects fall from a vehicle?
The shipper can be held liable indirectly if the carrier of a shipping company loses equipment/objects/etc. from their truck due to the failed security of the cargo. The shipper may also be held liable if they accepted the transportation knowing that there were issues with the cargo being unsafe and insecure.
Does the vehicle operator have any obligation to avoid falling objects?
The vehicle operator should not be held liable for failing to take precautions to avoid the falling objects caused by the vehicle ahead of them unless there was a warning displayed that the load is at risk of falling and they were following too closely.
Contact an attorney if you’ve been injured by falling objects
If you’ve been hit and injured by an object that fell from the back or roof of a vehicle ahead of you, you should consider consulting an attorney, as you are potentially able to receive compensation for the following:
- Lost wages
- Medical bills
- Physical therapy
- Psychological therapy
- Lost time
- Wrongful death
- Loss of quality of life