Who is Liable When Truck Tire “Gators” Cause an Accident?
We’ve all had to deal with this problem at one point or another; road debris is one of the leading causes of environment-based automobile accidents. Anyone who drives regularly—and especially those of us who take long drives between major cities—has likely had to dodge random debris that appears right in the middle of a high-speed lane. In Florida, this problem continues to worsen; Broward County alone collects more than 11,000 tons of debris from local roads every year. This debris ranges from a discarded fast-food bag to unexpectedly large hazards, like mattresses or coolers that have fallen from someone’s vehicle. However, the most common, and arguably most dangerous, type of road debris is the tire-tread left on the road when a big rig’s tire blows out.
The Terrible Risk of Road “Gators”
In the trucking world, these tire treads are known as “gators,” because they resemble the long, jagged jaw of an alligator waiting to bite the next hapless driver. Unlike the discarded fast-food bag, which simply crumples under your tire, or the occasional piece of lumber, which might cause a blow-out of your own, tire-debris gators are enormous, rubber, and often contain metal bands inside meant to strengthen the tire; and, you can’t always dodge them.
When your wheel hits a gator, there’s no telling what might happen. If you’re lucky, the jagged debris may simply shred your tire, and you’ll be able to pull safely over to the side of the road. However, many people who hit gators aren’t so lucky. A gator has the potential to curl and wrap around your tire, destroy your safe contact with the road, and may even get caught in your vehicle’s spinning axle, which can affect steering. Sometimes, the gator will pass harmlessly under one car, only to fly into the air and hit the windshield of the car behind it.
All things considered, it’s no surprise that gators cause thousands of automobile crashes every year. These accidents include both vehicles driving erratically to dodge gators and vehicles striking them directly. The question is: who is liable in a gator-related accident? Who is responsible for removing them from the road?
Who Is Liable for Crashes Caused by Tire Debris Gators?
Road debris is a fact of life. Things fall out off of pickup trucks, fly out of vehicle windows, and sometimes a driver may even purposefully toss his trash without waiting for the next gas station. But regardless of whether intentional or accidental, the driver/owner of the source vehicle is generally legally responsible. However, most drivers fail to take this responsibility seriously.
In the case of gators caused by big-rig trucks, the trucking company is almost always legally at fault. This is true for two main reasons:
First, it is the trucking company’s responsibility to inspect the tires of each rig before its departure. This inspection is to ensure that the tread of the tires, which breaks off to make a gator, is secure and in good condition, and thus not at risk of causing road debris in the first place.
Second, road debris is generally the responsibility of the driver whose vehicle shed it. Just as a pickup truck driver may be liable for a mattress or ladder that falls out of the back of his truck, truck drivers or their parent companies may be liable for gators from their trucks that are not dealt with in an appropriately safe manner. If there is a gator in the middle of your lane, or even on the shoulder where you may need to pull off for safety reasons, removing that gator is the responsibility of the truck driver and the trucking company. They may also be responsible for damage that stems from any accidents caused by their gators.
Unfortunately, drivers involved in gator-related accidents often don’t know how to hold the responsible party liable for damages.
Who Is Responsible for Cleaning up Road Debris?
The answer to this question is incredibly important, as truckers frequently leave gators in the road and continue driving. What should they actually be doing to keep other drivers safe and avoid liability? Who can they call for help? What about for those of us who are long-time drivers that, at some point, have accidentally let something fly from our car into the road behind us?
One key issue is that while truckers and private drivers may feel responsible for debris they cause, it’s dangerous to personally pull over and try to grab it yourself. People do get killed trying to remove debris from the road, even when the debris is close to the shoulder. Fortunately, road debris is actually taken care of by an official clean-up crew, though who commissions this crew may vary from region to region. Florida relies on the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Road Rangers. To ensure the safety of the crew, debris retrieval requires official lane closures, a pickup truck to hold the discarded debris, many orange cones, and a “crash truck” to absorb the impact of drivers who fail to obey the signs and flashing lights (this happens more often than you might think).
When a driver has left debris in the road by accident, the responsible thing to do is pull over, put on your hazards, and call the police. Let them know the location of the debris, how it got there, and then wait for the crew to arrive before continuing on. However, given that this is a time-consuming process, it’s easy to see why truckers often prioritize their delivery schedules over this important safety step—no matter how dangerous and irresponsible that decision may be.
Am I Eligible for Compensation for Damages Caused by Tire Debris Gators?
Depending on the circumstances, you may be eligible for compensation. If your vehicle was damaged by a gator left in the road, the trucking company can and should be held legally and financially responsible for the damage. The trucking company in question is generally responsible for the integrity of their vehicle tires, and the choices made by their drivers. Furthermore, drivers are responsible for reporting any debris they leave on the road after a blow-out, and failing to do so may make them liable for damage caused to others. This is good news for drivers who have experienced an accident due to abandoned tire gators, as medical and vehicle repair costs that result from the accident may be recoverable.
Numerous factors determine whether an injured driver or passenger is eligible for compensation after a gator-related crash. Drivers who attempted to avoid the collision are most likely to be awarded damages. If you tried to maneuver carefully, you did not swerve into another vehicle, or if the debris was thrown into your car by a blow-out, then responsibility for the crash could fall on the debris creator.
Dolman Law Group has experience representing drivers involved in gator-related car accidents. If you have suffered injuries or paid for expensive repairs as a result of such an accident, contact us online today or call (727) 451-6900.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765