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Car Crash Caused by Debris in the Road: Who Is Liable?

Mar 17th, 2022

With injury accidents involving two vehicles, determining who is at fault is usually a straightforward matter. But when your car accident was caused by debris left in the road, determining liability becomes a lot more complicated. How does one decide who is liable? For example, if a pothole that opened beneath your car’s front wheel caused you to veer into another lane of traffic and collide with a school bus?

Theoretically speaking, if an accident is caused by debris in the road, the person responsible for that debris should be liable for the damage and injuries caused. However, it is not as black and white as that, and the insurance companies don’t always see it that way. Sometimes, the help of a highly experienced attorney is your only hope of collecting anything at all. Let’s look deeper at this question and discuss some ways liability may be determined in accidents caused by debris.

Insurance companies tend to categorize debris-related accidents as either unavoidable or avoidable, so let’s start there.

Unavoidable Debris

Debris that is in motion at the time of the accident is considered unavoidable debris. (Some insurance companies also refer to this as “flying debris” because it is usually flying in the air when it makes contact with the vehicle.) Examples of unavoidable debris might include a falling tree limb or cargo falling off the back of a truck.

With unavoidable debris, liability is generally attributed to the party responsible for the flying debris. In the case of cargo falling off the truck, the truck driver or trucking company might be liable. For the case of the falling tree limb, barring an act of nature like lightning, liability probably rests with the property owner where the tree is located (or the municipality, if the tree was on public land). In cases where it can’t be determined who is liable, your own insurance may cover it. This may especially be the case if you have no-fault coverage.

Avoidable Debris

Debris that was already sitting in the road that you could have reasonably avoided (i.e., had you not been speeding, following too closely, talking on your cell phone, etc.) is considered avoidable debris. No matter who is responsible for leaving it, insurance companies will typically try to deny claims based on avoidable debris. This is because they deem it to be your fault for not avoiding it. This can become even more convoluted if you swerve to avoid the debris and end up colliding with another car in the process. You may be deemed at fault for the resulting collision.

Exceptions to the Rules

If it appears your accident was caused by avoidable debris, don’t despair. You may still be eligible for compensation, especially with the help of an experienced attorney. Certain exceptions exist which may still allow you to file a successful claim. Some examples:

  • If the debris was left by a construction crew (e.g., tools or nails not easily visible), you may be able to hold the construction company liable.
  • If you swerve to avoid another driver and run into a stationary trash can (considered “avoidable debris”), you may be able to prove the other driver is liable for forcing you into the trash can.
  • If the government entity responsible for keeping the roads clear was negligent in doing so, you may be able to file a claim against the government.

Liability can be so difficult to prove in debris-related accidents and insurance companies are often resistant to pay. The best way to ensure you receive a fair settlement is to hire an experienced personal injury attorney. The lawyers in our firm are highly skilled in getting fair damages for complicated injury accidents. Call us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.