Accidents Caused By Objects Falling From Vehicles

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Who Is Liable for Accidents Caused by Objects Falling from Vehicles?

When objects fall from vehicles, the owner or operator of the vehicle may be at fault and liable for injuries and property damage. Generally, there are two theories which are used to recover when objects fall from vehicles.

1. Negligence

People injured as the result of an accident caused by objects falling from vehicles may be able to recover if he or she can show that the object fell due to negligent loading or negligent handling of the vehicle. The main issue is the proximity in time between the falling object and the accident, so that the falling object was the actual cause of the accident.

For example, assume a passenger was able to recover when the automobile she was riding in collided with concrete blocks which fell from a truck. The blocks were stacked four or five high, which is two higher than the standard height for carrying concrete blocks. Moreover, the truck had no sides or stakes to hold the blocks in place. As the truck rounded a curve, some blocks fell and immediately fell onto the car which she was a passenger in, causing an accident.

In this example, the passenger will likely be able to recover. However, if the blocks were stacked in a safer manner, and there was a longer lapse in time between the blocks falling and the car colliding with the blocks, there may be an argument that the truck driver was not necessarily negligent, thus reducing recovery.

2. Res Ipsa Loquitur

Res Ipsa Loquitur is Latin for "the thing speaks for itself." It is a legal theory used when harm would ordinarily not occur without someone being negligent. Some courts have applied res ipsa loquitur to objects falling from vehicles, reasoning that loads are unlikely to fall unless they are improperly loaded or fastened. Again, the proximity in time between the fall and the accident must be such that the falling objects actually caused the accident.

There are three basic elements that must be met under a theory of res ipsa loquitur:

For example, the driver of a vehicle was liable for an accident when luggage fell from the roof of the car, causing the vehicle behind him to stop and he was rear-ended by another vehicle. The court will likely apply res ipsa loquitur because the accident would ordinarily not have occurred in the absence of someone's negligence, it was caused by instrumentalities within the defendants' exclusive control, and it was not due to any voluntary action or contribution on the plaintiff's part.

Can a Shipper Be Liable When Objects Fall from Vehicles?

When the shipper of fallen cargo has aided in its negligent loading, or has acquiesced in the transportation of a load with knowledge of its dangerous and unsafe condition, a person injured by the fall of such a load may hold the shipper, as well as the carrier, liable for the injuries sustained in the accident.

Does a Motorist Have a Duty to Avoid a Falling Load?

No. The driver of a vehicle is under no duty to take precautions to avoid an accident caused by the fall of the load of another vehicle in the absence of some warning that the load is in danger of falling.

Should I Consult with an Attorney?

If you have been involved in an accident caused by an object falling from a vehicle, you should contact a personal injury attorney immediately. Proving your case can be difficult, but an attorney can help explain the law and assert your rights so that you can recover damages for your injuries.

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Last Modified: 09-10-2014 09:54 AM PDT

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