When objects fall from vehicles, the owner or operator of the vehicle may be at fault and liable for injuries and property damage. The general law of vehicles carrying objects is that no vehicle can drive or move on any road or highway while carrying objects unless the automobile  is constructed in covered in a way to prevent its load from dropping, sifting, leaking from the vehicle.  Federal regulations have rigorous standards for cargos on commercial vehicles. Cargo must be secured to avoid items falling off the automobile causing a harmful road condition that can lead to a crash.

What Happens When an Object From Another Vehicle Hits Me?

When objects fall from vehicles fall and hit another driver or pedestrian they may have a claim against the driver of the vehicle. Generally, there are two theories that are used to successfully recover for a claim for injuries caused by objects falling 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 car. 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. To establish negligence, you have to prove the following elements: 

  1. Duty of Care: The driver of the cargo carrying the load or cargo had a duty to protect other drivers around him by covering and preventing the load or cargo from falling on other cargoes and pedestrians on the road
  2. Breach of Duty: The driver of the car breached the duty by not covering his or her car or truck
  3. Causation: The driver of the vehicle’s breach of duty was the cause of the accident or injury
  4. Damages: The plaintiff suffered damages that was directly or indirectly from the falling object from the automobile

2. Res Ipsa Loquitur

Res Ipsa Loquitur, which means "the thing speaks for itself,”  is a legal theory that  harm would ordinarily not occur unless someone was negligent. Some courts have applied res ipsa loquitur to objects falling from cars, 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:

  • Common Knowledge: It is common knowledge that the kind of accident that caused the harm does not occur without negligence
  • Control: The equipment or conduct that caused the injury was at all times under the driver’s control
  • Involuntary: The injury was not one that the injured person assumed voluntarily or contributed to in any manner

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 defendant’s’ 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?

If a bystander or someone from the general public is injured because of a improperly secured cargo, then the shipper and the carrier of the cargo may be liable for injuries. Both shipper and carrier may be liable under the vicarious liability theory if they were involved in the loading and securing of the cargo and they failed to properly secure the cargo prior to transportation. A shipper can also be liable for any injuries from a fallen cargo under the negligence theory if they accepted the transportation of a load knowing the load is unsafe and dangerous, but did not take measures to remedy the situation. 

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. Unless there is some warning that the load is in danger of falling and the motorist had appropriate time to react.. Motorists have a duty to other drivers to drive safely to prevent them from crashing into others. 

Should I Consult with an Attorney?

If you have been involved in an accident caused by an object falling from a automobile, 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.