Justin from Golden writes, “What's driving you crazy? A lot of vehicles, mostly large trucks and service vehicles, have stickers on them that say something to the effect of ‘Stay x-number-of feet behind. Not responsible for broken windshields.’ Do these stickers have any legal standing? If my windshield is broken because of unsecured material flying off someone else’s vehicle, are they truly not responsible just because they have a sticker?”
The sides of our highways, Justin, are littered with debris that has fallen out of moving vehicles. That sign you see on the back of mostly gravel-hauling trucks does not remove the driver or vehicle owner’s liability if your vehicle is damaged by something that falls out. When a driver of a large truck doesn’t secure a load properly and that stuff, whether it be a mattress or a couch or a rock comes out of their vehicle and hits another, the Colorado State Patrol considers that a crash.
Just like after a conventional crash, that incident would need to be reported to local law enforcement, Trooper Josh Lewis with the Colorado State Patrol said.
“In these cases, it isn’t vehicle vs. vehicle but matter from a vehicle causing unintentional damage. Since it happened to another vehicle while they are moving, that still constitutes a crash and it falls under that definition and would be investigated just the same,” Lewis said.
Michael Laszlo from LaszloLaw in Boulder said these signs have zero legal effect.
“If I wear a T-shirt that says ‘not Responsible for punching you in the face’ and I walk up and punch you in the face, am I responsible for your broken nose? The simple fact is that we are all responsible for the damage we intentionally or negligently cause to others.”
Trooper Lewis concurred. He said any sign on the back of a truck is not a legal binding way to get out of possible liability. "If something comes off or out of the vehicle and that something causes damage, that sign is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. They are still responsible and liable for that damage.”
Even though the sign does not limit the driver's or company's liability, it’s a good warning that if you can read it, you are probably too close, and it's best to back off a little.
Unfortunately a lot of drivers who drop something out of their vehicle, including gravel, usually don’t realize they are spilling their load, Lewis said. He suggests trying to get as much information as possible about the vehicle that lost the load including a description of the vehicle and driver, license plate number, DOT number from a truck and it really helps to have phone camera or dash cam video. He says all that information will help in the investigation, especially if any insurance claims are made.
Laszlo said proving where the item came from could be challenging and given the low cost of a new windshield and the likelihood that insurance would cover the cost, the effort to prove your case in court generally isn’t appealing.
Depending on the situation, drivers who lose a load could be charged with a violation if they fail to cover a load properly and it spills on the highway. Lewis told me the fines could be as low as $35 or as high as $131 plus 3 points on your license depending on the situation. The offender could even get a citation for littering at the very least. Lewis said the consequences of a spilled load are magnified if someone gets hurt.
“If the crash with the lost load causes bodily injury, then that is an automatic summons into court,” Lewis said.
The situation is different if something like a rock or other debris is already on the road and is then kicked up by the vehicle in front of you. In that situation where your vehicle is damaged, Lewis told me you are out of luck. He said the chances are pretty good that you have unknowingly damaged someone else’s property. The liability extends to something that comes out of or off of another vehicle and then causes damage.
If this happens to you, you should fill out this form from the Colorado State Patrol crash information page to report the crash and then contact your insurance company to repair your damage.
Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on any podcast app including iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Podbean.