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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
Attorney • (877) 377-7848

Road Debris: Dangers and Liability

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A car crashed into the railing of an overpass on I-26 in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, causing a large section of the concrete railing to fall onto the interstate. As the concrete fell, cars were stopping and slowing to avoid the debris. A tractor-trailer truck tried to avoid hitting a Mitsubishi van. He overcorrected, hit the van, and flipped over. The truck driver was partially entrapped in the cab. He was extricated and taken to a local hospital; his condition is unknown. The driver of the minivan was not injured.

In Hillsborough County, Florida, a driver of a Hyundai Sonata was attempting to avoid a large Styrofoam block in his lane when he lost control, crashing into another vehicle head-on. The driver of the Sonata was ejected from his vehicle and suffered fatal injuries. He was pronounced dead at an area hospital. The other driver suffered critical injuries.

If you think these terrible tragedies are freak accidents, think again. A study conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) concluded that road debris caused nearly 200,000 traffic accidents, about 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths between 2011 and 2014.

Road debris is so common that many people do not think twice about it. An empty box, piece of cardboard, trash such as empty wrappers and cans, or even a shoe might be seen as you travel our nations’ roadways. Construction debris is also a common source of road hazards. This may include nails and screws, scrap wood or steel, and barrels and markers, to name a few.

Accidents due to road debris more likely to occur on interstate highways because of higher speeds and less reaction time. While it is very unlikely than an empty plastic bag with pose any threat, other debris could. Even though hitting the debris may cause damage to your vehicle or cause injuries to you, swerving into another lane or off the road can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and strike another vehicle or object such as a guardrail. The result can be a multiple-vehicle crash with multi injuries and deaths.

If an auto accident is caused by road debris, it is important to contact an experienced attorney to determine who is responsible for damages. You may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries, medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any other damages related to the accident.

When road debris car accidents occur, the cases may be difficult to pursue because the source of the debris is often unknown. If the debris came from a passing vehicle, it may be difficult to determine who was responsible. If a work crew left road debris and an accident resulted, the contractor (and others) might be legally responsible for the injuries to innocent motorists. If a major trucking company fails to monitor its trucks and the roadways outside its area are filled with grease and oil spots from the semi, an accident might be the legal responsibility of that trucking company.

If potholes or debris left on a public road causes a vehicle accident, it is possible that some government entity may have breached its duty to provide adequate road maintenance, and can therefore be held accountable. An investigation regarding liability of the government entity may depend on a wide range of facts, such as:

  • Complaints made about the road obstruction to the public entity or its surrogates
  • Actions taken to clear the hazard
  • Duration that the hazard was present
  • Whether poor lighting or other road design factors obscured the obstruction
  • Failure to provide warnings or barriers

Even then, negligence claims against government entities can be difficult because governments often attempt to use sovereign immunity to avoid such lawsuits. The plaintiff must prove the state agency was notified of the debris, but failed to clear it from the road. Additionally, the plaintiff must prove that the debris was the cause of the accident; there must be proof that the accident would not have otherwise occurred.

There is not sure-fire answer to safely avoiding road debris except to eliminate it, but we can all do our part by limiting the risks.

  • Don’t litter.
  • Make sure any loads are securely fastened to your vehicle.
  • Check tires for rocks that could become projectiles.
  • Don’t tailgate! By maintaining leaving at least 3 to 4 seconds of following distance, you can see potential objects in the road ahead easier.
  • If you see you are about to make contact with debris, safely reduce your speed as much as possible prior to making contact.
  • Maintain open space to the front and at least one side of their vehicle at all times so if you come upon road debris, you are able steer into that open space to avoid contact with an object.
  • If you see debris on the roadways, safely pull over and call the police.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.