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Wrecked Car Because of Junk on Road – Who Is Responsible?

Guy DiMartino Aug. 14, 2016

I recently spoke with someone who wanted to know if I could help him after a one-car accident. He told me that he was driving at night on the highway and the next thing he realized there was something in the roadway in front of him. He tried to avoid the danger, lost control of his vehicle, and it crashed into the guardrail.

The guy was injured in the crash, his car was totaled, he lost work, and he wanted to know if there was a chance of getting reimbursed for his losses. I told the guy – IT DEPENDS!

Two Most Common Scenarios

Over my years in practice the two most common scenarios that I have seen are these:

Scenario One

A vehicle comes upon debris in the roadway, tries to avoid the debris and ends up in an accident.

Scenario Two

You are driving on a roadway and a vehicle in front of you loses something, the debris hits your vehicle and causes a crash.

The Study

Triple “A” just came out with a study that puts some numbers on the problem with roadway debris.

According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, between 2011 and 2014, over 200,000 crashes on US roadways were related to debris left on the road. About one-third of the folks who passed away did so because they over-corrected to avoid the hazard and lost control of their vehicles.

Unlike bad weather and other causes of accidents, road debris crashes are 100% preventable. The most common scenarios that lead to roadway debris are:

  • Parts falling off of vehicles;

  • Improperly or unsecured cargo that fall onto the road; and

  • Trailers that become separated because they were not properly hitched to the vehicle.

Two Simple Fixes to The Problem

  1. Before going on the highway – make sure your vehicle is properly maintained

  2. Securing the load before getting on the highway and periodically checking the load to make sure it is still secure during the trip

Indiana Law on Private Vehicle Roadway Debris

If something falls off of your vehicle or flies out of the back of your vehicle onto an Indiana roadway you can get a ticket and have to pay a fine.

Answer to The Guy's Question

If the guy who was injured is able to identify the vehicle that caused the hazard, he will have a claim against the owner/driver of that vehicle. Most of the time, identification is not feasible.

If the debris falls off of another vehicle, makes contact with the guy's vehicle, and the other driver doesn't stop, the guy should be able to make a claim against his own insurance if he had UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE. Most policies provide coverage if there is physical impact with a hit and run vehicle, and courts that have looked at the issue say that debris from the other vehicle will trigger coverage if there is “direct contact”.

Debris claims are difficult to pursue and very fact sensitive so the most important action an accident victim can undertake is trying to gather evidence and documenting the accident scene.