Who Is Responsible For Damage or Injury From Road Debris?
What If Road Debris Causes Damage to My Car or An Injury on a South Florida Highway, Who Is Responsible and Can a Lawyer Help Recover Losses?
You are driving down the road on a typical South Florida day. Suddenly, a piece of debris is on the road, such a tire tread, a tool that’s fallen off a pickup truck or maybe it’s just a “harmless” but huge cardboard box. Or even more scary, the debris is flying at you. This happens all too often on South Florida roadways and thousands of times around the country. Property damage is often just a portion of the accident. Many times, individuals suffer serious personal injury or death in these incidents. The question then becomes “who is responsible for my loss” and possibly, can an attorney help?
Road Debris Hazards on South Florida Highways
The Florida DOT estimates there is an average of one crash a day in the state due to road debris of one kind or another. Hazardous objects come in all types and sizes, from furniture, lumber, tools, mattresses, ladders, garbage, metal rods, tire treads from big rigs, wheels falling off trailers and even household appliances. And then there’s every driver’s nightmare which is having something hit their windshield or worse, by an object acting as a projectile into the vehicle which has happened not once, but multiple times in the past decade on roadways in Broward, West Palm Beach and Miami Dade let alone elsewhere in Florida.
Even what seems to be harmless junk on the road like clothes or boxes can be dangerous. Not because of running over it or hitting it but because of attempting to avoid the debris.
In June 2016 it was reported how a driver in Florida swerved to avoid a piece of debris that resulted in an accident for which the driver was killed. In 2005, a Broward County individual was killed on Interstate 595 after swerving to avoid hitting some plastic debris. Sadly, he lost control of his car and slammed into a concrete piling. These are just two of many such examples.
So while the object in the street may be harmless if hit, it’s often hard to visually and mentally process the hazard level of an obstruction in the limited time a driver has to react. This is especially true if following another vehicle too closely, driving distracted or speeding.
And if you are riding a motorcycle, depending on speed, most anything in the road can spell trouble. So the stakes for a motorcyclist are much higher than for those of us in an automobile or truck.
Who Is Responsible For Losses Due To Damage Or Injury Caused By Road Debris in Florida?
The driver and owner of a vehicle which causes road debris is responsible for the damages caused by his negligence. The question then becomes, “Is there coverage for my loss?”
How damage is caused to your vehicle can determine what type of insurance may cover it. Since every situation is different, the following are general rules of thumb:
Collision Insurance Coverage – If you run over something in the road that causes damage, your collision coverage may apply even if you do not know who is responsible for the debris. If you don’t have collision coverage, you will need to check the other coverage listed below:
Comprehensive Insurance – If roadway debris flies through the air and hits your car, some of the damage may be covered by your Homeowner’s or Umbrella coverage.
Liability Insurance (of other driver) – If you can prove the damage was caused as a result of negligence like someone failing to secure a load, having some part fly off their car or even throwing an item out their window, that individual or owner of the vehicle is responsible for your loss including injuries or death. If the driver or owner has liability insurance, that coverage may apply to compensate for any losses.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage – if you maintain what is known as “Uninsured Motorist Coverage”, you may be covered if you are injured by the debris and the people left the scene. Unfortunately, all too often debris flies off a vehicle and the driver just keeps going. Many times the driver doesn’t even know it flew or fell off their own car or truck. Uninsured Motorist coverage pays for damages due to the negligence of a person who left the scene and was never identified. Having the proper coverage is only part of the battle. You will need to prove the debris was the cause of your injury, and that the driver or owner can’t be located, or do not have adequate insurance for your loss
Attorney as Recourse – In some situations, a personal injury law firm may be necessary to cover your losses due to injury or property damage. Whether it be because the insurance company is fighting you about not paying or the offending driver (if known) may have some personal responsibility for what happened. When a company-owned vehicle is involved, an attorney may be of assistance to hold the business accountable for your losses.
More About Uninsured Motorist Coverage and Road Debris Claims
As already mentioned, Uninsured Motorist coverage pays for damages due to the negligence of a person who left the scene and was never identified. Proving the debris came from an unknown or uninsured vehicle can be the biggest challenge. It is often not possible to locate the debris or it may still be on the roadway causing a danger to others but too dangerous for you to retrieve it. Never try to retrieve debris that hit your vehicle when the items are still on a busy highway. There’s no reason to make a bad situation worse. Call the police and report the debris.
Due to these intricate issues, it is important to retain experienced legal counsel to review and handle your case. At Cohen and Juda, we have handled these type of cases successfully many times for Floridians. Tell us what happened. For a Free Consultation call 1-800-Fair-Fee or (954) 424-1440.
What To Do If Your Car, Truck or Motorcycle is Impacted by Road Debris
First thing is to make sure all occupants of the vehicle are uninjured. If anyone is hurt, take the appropriate action to get them immediate medical assistance.
Second, if your vehicle is still moving, try to assess if there’s any damage that can affect the safety of continuing to drive. Things like a cracked windshield or something stuck under your car that’s being dragged and grinding away sending sparks flying or even something that went through the front grill of the car that seems like it can cause an engine problem all should alert you to cautiously pull over. And of course if one or more of your tires are damaged or flat, you’ll probably know that right away and the key is to not panic or hit the brakes as you can lose control of your car, but steadily work to get the car stopped and out of the way of any traffic. If you pull over and feel it’s unsafe to further drive it or may cause more damage, get it towed rather than taking a chance driving it anymore.
Next, if the damage appears to be more than what your insurance deductible is, filing a police report will help when filing a claim. If on I-95, the Florida Turnpike or another interstate roadway, dialing *FHP (*347) on your cell phone can get a state trooper to you. If you have OnStar, push the button and tell the OnStar advisor what happened and they should be able to advise and assist you with police, towing and medical assistance if there’s a serious injury.
If you have a Dash Cam, make sure you secure that video footage. Many dash cams have a looping capability that records over past recordings after the memory is at capacity. So you’ll want to transfer the data from the dashcam as soon after the accident as you can so you have a copy on your PC. It’s also a good idea to put a 2nd copy onto a USB memory stick to give your personal injury attorney if you engage one, to assist you with recovering damages for your loss or for less serious cases, to provide your insurance company.
Legal Penalties For Not Securing Items That Can Fall Off a Vehicle
All 50 states have penalties for transporting unsecured loads, but these often are small fines that don’t sufficiently ensure people take the care they should in securing loose items they haul. Florida is one of at least 13 states that include the possibility of jail time when something they were hauling resulted in serious bodily injury or a death.
After the Removal Of All Debris Safely (ROADS) task force was formed in Florida, their leadership led to laws mandating that drivers secure their loads. The Sun-Sentinel recently reported that in 2016, 1,343 tickets were issued by law enforcement statewide for unsecured loads. Of those, there were 163 tickets in Broward, 110 in Palm Beach County and 271 issued in Miami-Dade. The fine for a violation begins at $115.
Being A Good Samaritan – How to Report Debris You See in The Highway While Traveling in South Florida
One of the best ways to avoid being hit by something in the road to begin with is to minimize how long anything sitting in the road stays there. If you see something that could be a danger to others, call *FHP (*347) or the local police or if you have OnStar they can contact the proper authorities for you. It’s important to note the Mile Marker if you are on a highway or a cross street and any landmarks if on a city street so you can help whoever is sent out to the scene to quickly locate the problem on the roadway.
Ongoing debris removal from highway travel lanes is handled by the Florida Department of Transportation Road Rangers, but due to the unpredictability of things falling onto the road it can take too long for them to find it on their own so reporting hazards is essential.
Mobile phone Apps like Waze allow drivers to report hazards as well and while it’s not super specific, other drivers are alerted of a hazard ahead to look out for. So if you use Waze, you may be able to help save a life or be saved. This method of reporting is secondary to contacting the proper authorities first, but can help people out in the mean time.
Learn Your Options If Road Debris Has Happened To You
If you have had an incident with road debris and suffered property damage or an injury to you or a passenger and are unsure whether there’s anything that can be done to cover the costs related to repair, perhaps lost wages, medical bills and other after effects, contact us for a free consultation at (954) 424-1440 and tell us what happened.