The short answer is, yes. However (and there is always a however), there are potential complications if you are hit by an object. What happens if the back of the dump truck from which the stone came has a sign that says “We will not pay for damages from falling debris.”
The answer is, that is not a contract. It is not binding on you as another motorist. It may scare away some people from even making a claim, which is probably why it is there. However, it does not have the force of law or any binding effect. If the truck driver or whomever secured the load was negligent, then he or she and the company they work for are liable for all damages flowing from such negligence.
The better defense usually is: “prove it was us.”
This becomes more difficult for the Plaintiff. Ideally, you would want to take cell photos of the rear or side of the truck showing its load or cargo were not properly secured and showing debris actually falling off. But you could cause an accident that way. The best case scenario would be the passenger in your car (if you had one) takes a cell phone picture of the license plate of the offending truck and the loose, incomplete or otherwise negligent way in which the load was secured.
Thus, you would have proof that this truck had been traveling in front of you and that this truck, more likely than not, is the one which spilled part of its load on the roadway. Remember, the burden of proof in a civil case is not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If it were, you would likely lose a case of this kind. It is merely to show “by a preponderance of the evidence” [ever so slightly more likely than not] that you have sued the correct party, the one which caused the damages of which you complain.
There is a relevant statute in Pennsylvania which could help you and which is not well known.
It is as follows:
§ 4903. Securing loads in vehicles.
(a) General rule.–No vehicle shall be driven or moved on any highway unless the vehicle is so constructed or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking or otherwise escaping.
(b) Fastening load.–Every load on a vehicle shall be fastened so as to prevent the load or covering from becoming loose, detached or in any manner a hazard to other users of the highway.
Therefore, it is clear that if a motor vehicle is spilling its load as it is driven on the roadway, its driver and his or her company are liable for the harm caused as a result. It is just a matter of having sufficient proof. A violation of this law where damage is caused to a person or to his property is a crime– a summary offense which upon conviction, means a sentence of a fine not less than $300 nor more than $1,000.
§ 3720. Snow and ice dislodged or falling from moving vehicle.
When snow or ice falls from a moving vehicle and strikes another vehicle or pedestrian causing death or serious bodily injury, the operator of the vehicle from which the snow or ice is dislodged or falls shall be subject to a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $1,000 for each offense.
This one is fairly new. We’ve also seen drivers who carve out a tiny portal from which to see and then let the snow and ice chunks fly off their car on the highway, like something out of a traffic disaster movie. It is not wise to drive off after a snow fall until clearing ALL of the snow and ice off your vehicle. The one time you don’t is the time when the snow or ice will become airborne.
Here is what we suggest to avoid these troubles:
- Leave more following distance than you think you should in the Winter time and whenever you are behind a dump truck, trash truck or similar motor vehicle.
- Don’t stay behind a dump truck or similar motor vehicle, especially if you see its load is leaking. You don’t have to pass, just slow down or move into another lane of travel.
- If your windshield does get broken or other harm results, report it immediately to your carrier, when your memory is fresh and if possible, without endangering one, get the offender’s license plate. This way, if you or your carrier chooses to sue for subrogation, there is a little more factual support that you identified the correct offender.
Stay tuned for more interesting articles geared toward the Winter season fast approaching… and stay safe.