I was driving home on LBJ Freeway in Dallas on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend when I came upon an accident. Someone was taking advantage of the long weekend to move. The pickup their stuff was in was overflowing and not all of it was properly secured. The wind forced the mattress and box springs into the air along with a love seat. The car directly behind the truck hit the love seat destroying the love seat and causing some pretty hefty damage to the car. Luckily, no one was hurt.
The accident started me thinking about who was at fault so I checked in with my contact at Progressive, Scott Jergensen to get him and his team’s thoughts. There are multiple scenarios so let’s look at each of them.
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 furniture 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. The love seat hits the car behind it, and while the truck owner is liable, if no one is 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 keeps driving, whether they were aware or not, and the love seat is sitting there for a few minutes. Hitting the love seat would most likely be handled under the collision coverage of their car insurance and probably handled as a not at fault accident. This largely depends on how closely your carrier adheres to the doctrine of “last clear chance” (see below) and your claims adjuster.
Scenario 4: The love seat 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 love seat 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.
There’s one last factor that comes into play. Who owns the truck? 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. Stated another way, and this is how I’ve seen it applied, 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 tend to 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.