What Happens When Road Hazards Damage My Car or Cause a Crash?

Author: R. Christopher Jones, Personal Injury Attorney

Most drivers have experienced the cringe-worthy moment that occurs just after they’ve traveled over an undetected pothole and heard “THUMP!” 

Sudden hazards like potholes and road debris can cause serious (and expensive) harm to the tires and undercarriage, hindering the driver’s ability to control the vehicle.  Disabled vehicles, flooded roadways, and animals (dead or alive!) can also create situations that can lead to dangerous car accidents.

What Happens When Road Hazards Cause Damage?

Here are some helpful things to know about road hazards and the possible damage they may cause to your car:

Create Clear Sightlines to Avoid Hazards and Debris

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 11,000 tire-related crashes occur each year.[1] Fortunately, these accidents can be curtailed considerably if drivers follow one simple technique: increase your following distance. As a general rule, the greater the following distance you have between you and the vehicle in front of you, the more time and space you will have to perceive unexpected hazards and maneuver around them. A proper cushion also allows for greater vision of the road ahead. 

Review Your Insurance Coverage to Help Plan for Unexpected Situations

If your vehicle is damaged by a sudden hazard, that damage may be covered by your auto insurance.  For instance, if a deer suddenly runs into the roadway and collides with your vehicle, then the damage would be covered by the “collision” portion of your policy.  If a flying rock chipped your windshield while traveling down the interstate, the damage would be covered by the “comprehensive” portion of the policy.  If you incur medical bills as a result of a road hazard accident, you may be eligible for Medical Expense Payments, or “Medpay” (Medical Payments Coverage), which allows you to receive reimbursement for medical bills up to a certain limit.

Review your insurance policy’s coverage and its limits and make sure that they can realistically meet your needs if an unexpected pothole or run-in with wildlife disables your vehicle.

Personal Injury

You may seek compensation for your property damage and bodily injury by filing a lawsuit against third parties who contributed to your road hazard accident.  For example, if a driver failed to secure objects in the bed of his or her truck, causing an accident to a trailing vehicle, the driver of the truck would be responsible for any injuries arising from that incident. 

Accidents caused by road hazards can be difficult when considering a personal injury case because it creates ambiguity on the question of liability, meaning who’s at fault for causing the accident.  When evaluating whether someone is liable for the collision, the issue usually boils down to one question – was the collision preventable?  Attempting to answer that question may lead to another list of inquiries – did someone cause the debris to be in the road?   How long has the pothole been there, and should it have been repaired?  Should someone have placed warning signs at that location, to warn motorists about the dangerous roadway?  Did the driver who failed to avoid the hazard do everything that a “reasonable” person would have done under the circumstances? 

If you or a loved one is injured in a collision that was caused by a road hazard, you should consider speaking with an experienced attorney, who can advise you whether you have a claim.

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[1] https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/tires

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