The Flying Wrench and the Car Insurance Claim

I was talking with a friend of mine who’s a Dallas area financial planner. His wife had just gotten their vehicle back from the repair shop after being in an accident where someone had hit them. The new paint on their vehicle was still curing so the car couldn’t be washed. As his wife drove on Central Expressway in Dallas, a wrench fell off a truck, struck their car, breaking the new grill and then gouging the hood. Luckily, the wrench didn’t hit the windshield in front of his wife or pass through it. She was safe, but they have another car insurance claim on their hands.

He had an interesting question about how will claim be handled, meaning is it a not at fault or at fault accident? Let’s take a look at how a claim adjuster will go about determining fault using some guidelines given to me from a friend of mine at Progressive. To help make it easier to “see,” let’s change the wrench to a sofa.

Scenario 1: The sofa falls onto or directly into the path of the car immediately behind (or next to) the truck damaging the car. In this case, the truck owner (not necessarily the sofa owner) is liable for the damage to the car(s) as they are supposed to adequately secure their load. In this case, it’s a not-at-fault accident and the truck owner’s insurance pays the claim, provided the truck driver knows it and pulls over.

Scenario 2: In this case, the truck owner is not aware they lost some of their load and keeps driving, but the sofa hit the car behind it. While the truck owner is liable, if no one was able to provide an identity of the owner the damage would be handled as a not-at-fault accident and paid under the comprehensive coverage of the car owner’s policy.

Scenario 3: The truck owner kept driving, whether they were aware or not, and the sofa was sitting there for a few minutes. If the car unavoidably struck the love seat, it would be handled under the collision coverage of their car insurance and could go either way, either at fault or not at fault depending on the circumstances and your claims adjuster.

Scenario 4: The sofa has been sitting on the highway for a period of time. In this case it’s noticed, but no attempt is made to avoid it, the car driver would be determined to be at fault for not avoiding it and damaging their vehicle. Their collision coverage would apply here.

Scenario 5: This one gets pretty muddled. The sofa falls off the truck. Another vehicle hits the object and knocks it into your vehicle. In an instance like this, who’s at fault will depend on the timing between the fall of the object, when it struck the first car and how it was knocked into yours. In a case like this, it could be the truck owner’s fault, the other car’s fault or even your fault. It simply depends on how the event unfolded.

To further muddle the picture, the question of, “Who owns the truck,” must be answered. If it’s the person moving their stuff then the claim is pretty clear cut. If, however, they’ve borrowed the truck from a friend to move their stuff, and who hasn’t, then it’s the owner of the truck whose insurance would be called on to pay the claim. The reason is, Texas law state that insurance follows the vehicle, not the driver. If you own the truck, be careful who you loan it to as this could come back to bite you!

These scenarios are not black and white between all carriers. I’ve seen instances like this go both ways and it largely depends on how closely the carrier follows “the last clear chance” doctrine. This “doctrine” states that some level of fault can be found with the car driver if they had enough room to avoid hitting the object but didn’t (see scenario 4). In these instances, the car driver is supposed to allow one car length per every 10 miles of speed driven (60 miles an hour = 6 car lengths) behind the vehicle in front of it so it can safely stop if needed. Carriers that adhere closely to this doctrine will find the car’s driver at fault.

So what are we to do as we drive on our freeways?

  • Give yourself enough room to safely stop and/or maneuver if the vehicle in front of you is carrying anything (furniture, tools, lawn equipment, ladders, etc.)
  • Change lanes so you’re not behind such a vehicle
  • Anticipate the unexpected

If you’ve driven on any freeway in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin or San Antonio lately, there’s a lot of stuff on our roadways including, tires, pallets, mattresses, and other stuff. Avoid it and you’ll save yourself the headache and potential money of worrying about who’s at fault. Share your questions, comments, and experiences with me on my Google +, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages. I’d love to hear from you!

Evie Wise
Evie Wise


Evie Wise
Evie Wise

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