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Most drivers have personal experience with having a stone or object strike their windshield. We have even come across a slew of debris — trash, tire tread, furniture, machine parts or equipment that has fallen off another vehicle — while navigating the roadways.

Road debris can be extremely dangerous, especially on roadways where vehicles are travelling at high speeds and the driver has less time to react. Between 2011 – 2014 road debris was a factor in a total of more than 200,000 police-reported crashes, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Debris can also be launched into the windshield by the tires of another vehicle. The harm caused by flying debris depends mostly on its size; however, even small sized debris can cause a serious or deadly crash.

An 82-year-old man who died while driving on the California 101. The killer? Most likely a metal cap from a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) water truck. It appears that the large metal screw-on cap came loose from the truck, flew across several lanes of traffic and smashed through the windshield of the man’s car, striking him in the neck as he was driving in the northbound fast lane. The impact caused him to swerve and collide with the center median. He died at the scene.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) described the object as being about 2 to 3 inches in diameter or about the size of a baseball and said it looked like plumbing material. An investigation is still underway. Caltrans is working with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to determine how the cap, which is usually secured by a metal chain, came loose. No other vehicles were involved.

Sorting out liability is often difficult after any auto accident, but more so when the accident was caused by road debris. When the negligent party is a government agency, such claims become more challenging because the government may have sovereign immunity in such lawsuits. The rules vary state to state, but typically a “notice of claim” must be filed within a certain period of time after the accident. Under California law, family of the deceased in this case has 6 months from the accident to file a claim against Caltrans.

While government entities do enjoy a higher level of protection against litigation than individuals and other entities, they should not be immune to justice. In order to protect their rights, the family should discuss the case with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible, regardless of whether fault has yet to be determined. An attorney can help them navigate the unique set of rules involving government entities so justice can be served.

Lawsuit Financial extends its condolences to the family of the deceased.

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

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