In most cases, the driver of the vehicle from which the objects were falling will be held liable for an accident and any resulting injuries of persons involved in the accident. The general rule of thumb regarding vehicles carrying cargo is that no vehicle can operate on any roadway while transporting objects unless it is secured or covered in a way that would prevent the cargo from shifting, falling, or leaking from the vehicle.
There are also many federal laws that provide strict guidelines for cargo being transported on a commercial vehicle. For instance, the cargo must be tightly secured in order to avoid items from dropping off the vehicle and causing harmful road conditions that could potentially lead to a crash. Thus, in the majority of cases, it is the driver or carrier that can be held responsible for accidents and injuries caused by objects falling from vehicles; with some exceptions.
What Happens When an Object From Another Vehicle Hits Me?
When an object falls from another vehicle and hits a person or another driver, which causes that individual to suffer injuries, then they may be able to recover damages for their injuries if they can prove that the object fell due to negligent circumstances. For instance, if the owner of the cargo improperly loaded or secured the objects to their vehicle or mishandled their vehicle while driving with cargo attached on top of it. This is simply known as negligence.
The second way that a person may be able to recover damages based on a claim for accidents caused by objects falling from vehicles is through the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
The main factor to establish in such cases is the proximity in time between the falling object and the accident. The timing must be such that the falling object was in fact the actual cause of the accident and any resulting injuries. In general, the four factors to prove negligence in cases involving accidents caused by objects falling from vehicles are as follows:
- Duty of care: The driver of the vehicle transporting the cargo load had a duty to protect surrounding drivers and other persons from falling debris by properly securing, loading, and covering the cargo. They also had a duty to drive in a manner that would be considered as reasonable given their circumstances.
- Breach of duty: The driver of a vehicle breached their duty by not properly securing, loading, or covering the cargo load attached to the vehicle. Again, the driver may also breach this duty when they drive in a manner that would be considered as unreasonable given their circumstances (e.g. speeding with a heavy cargo load).
- Causation: The driver’s breach of duty was both the proximate and actual cause of the accident as well as the injuries that the plaintiff suffered.
- Damages: The plaintiff must show that they suffered actual damages as a result of the objects falling from a vehicle.
- Res Ipsa Loquitur
“Res ipsa loquitur” is a Latin phrase that means, “the thing speaks for itself.” It also happens to be a legal theory that refers to a situation in which an injury would not have occurred unless an actor was negligent.
For instance, some courts will apply a res ipsa loquitur theory to lawsuits involving accidents caused by objects falling from vehicles, reasoning that it is unlikely that a cargo load would fall unless it has been improperly secured or loaded.
It should be noted, however, that this theory will only work if the proximity in time between the fall and the accident would be such that the falling objects actually caused the accident. There are three basic elements that must be met before it can be proven that the theory of res ipsa loquitur applies:
- Negligence was present: The action was of the sort that could not have occurred unless negligence existed.
- Defendant had total control: The action or event that led to the injuries was exclusively under the control of the defendant.
- Plaintiff had no control: The plaintiff played absolutely no role in causing their injury or the injury caused was not within the plaintiff’s own control, but was assumed involuntarily.
For example, suppose a driver secured luggage to the top of their vehicle and the luggage slipped off the roof when they started driving, which in turn, caused the vehicle behind them to stop short and get rear-ended by a third vehicle. In this scenario, the driver of the vehicle carrying the luggage could be held liable for injuries in the accident under the theory of res ipsa loquitur.
This is because the court will likely reason that the accident would not have ordinarily occurred in the absence of a party’s negligence (in this case, the driver). The driver in this example not only had control of their vehicle, but they also had control over the luggage secured to the top of their vehicle.
Both the vehicle and luggage were exclusively within the driver’s control and none of those actions could be attributed or said to be voluntarily undertaken by the injured party in this instance. Accordingly, res ipsa loquitur would be proven and thus the driver would be responsible for any resulting injuries and the corresponding damages.
Can a Shipper Be Liable When Objects Fall from Vehicles?
If a bystander or some other member of the general public is injured due to improperly secured cargo, then both the shipper and carrier of the cargo may be held liable for any resulting injuries. An injured party may be able to hold both the shipper and carrier responsible under the theory of vicarious liability. Vicarious liability refers to a legal concept wherein an employer can be held liable for the actions of their employees.
Although vicarious liability may also apply in other contexts, when it involves a shipper who employs a carrier company to transport their cargo, both parties can be held liable if they were involved in the loading of the cargo and they failed to properly secure the cargo prior to transporting it.
A shipper can also be held liable for resulting injuries due to fallen cargo if they accepted a deal to transport the cargo even though they were aware that the load would be unsafe and dangerous, and did not take any further measures to remedy the situation before handing it over to their carrier for transportation.
In most instances, however, it is typically the driver transporting the cargo who will be held responsible for injuries stemming from objects falling from their vehicle. Again, this is because the cargo is not only in their control, but also because they were likely to be the last ones to secure it to their vehicle before transporting it to the assigned destination.
Does a Motorist Have a Duty to Avoid a Falling Load?
Generally speaking, the driver of a vehicle (i.e., a motorist) does not have a duty to avoid objects that are falling from a vehicle. There is one exception, however, and that is if there is some type of warning on the vehicle which states that objects attached to the vehicle are in danger of falling and that other drivers should be cautious of this fact.
Also, if a motorist notices the falling objects and does have a reasonable amount of time to safely avoid the debris, it is generally recommended that they do so. Otherwise, the main duty that all drivers have to one another on the road is the duty to drive in a manner that would prevent them from crashing into other vehicles.
Thus, if avoiding the falling objects would cause a motorist to collide into other vehicles and cause much more damage than avoiding the objects would, then it would not be considered reasonable for them to swerve to prevent the objects from hitting only their vehicle.
Should I Consult with an Attorney?
If you have suffered injuries in an accident caused by objects falling from a vehicle or if you are being sued for such an issue, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local car accident attorney as soon as possible. An experienced car accident attorney will be able to explain the laws that apply to your case and can discuss how these laws may affect the outcome of a lawsuit.
Depending on whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in the case, your lawyer will also be able to provide guidance on what types of remedies you may be able to recover if you are the plaintiff or can research defenses that might be available to raise against a plaintiff’s claim if you are the defendant in a case.
In addition, your lawyer can also assist you in preparing a case, can provide legal representation in court, and can make sure that your rights are protected under the law, regardless of which party you are in a lawsuit that involves accidents caused by objects falling from a vehicle.