One of the things about driving on the freeways in a town like Denver is the prevalence of all types of signs, stickers and stupidity. The other day, I was behind a guy who was tailgating a gravel truck with a sign that said, “Stay Back 200 Ft. – Not responsible for damage to windshield.” Not surprisingly, a rock flew off the back of the truck and right into his windshield. He slammed on his brakes, swerved into the lane on the right, nearly smashing a Honda Civic which fortunately was being defensively driven to avoid a pile up. Of course, the truck kept on going, probably unaware that any damage had occurred behind him and likely feeling comfortable that the truck disclaimed any liability. I felt glad that I hadn’t been tailgating the guy in front of me or the truck and avoided a collision myself but I started thinking, can that truck really disclaim liability for an object falling off of his truck and breaking a windshield?
I asked a lawyer and here’s what he told me. The owner of the truck and the driver of the truck are potentially liable for negligence. They have a duty to avoid causing injury on the roadways including covering their loads to avoid causing injury to other motorists. So the short answer is no, they can’t duck liability by posting a sign that warns motorists to stay back 200 or 300 feet or whatever. But he went on to explain how they most likely get away with it repeatedly which is not too surprising. He guessed that the guy who got hit by the rock didn’t get enough information from the truck to identify it ie, license plate number or other identifying information. He also pointed out that I was a witness to the event but I didn’t stop or collect any identifying information either. True, I could have helped that guy but I was in a hurry to get where I was going and wasn’t going to stop – nobody else on the road did either. Most people on the road have an insurance deductible that is higher than the couple hundred bucks it costs to replace a windshield so they end up coming out of pocket. But if it happens to you, try to get the license plate number of the truck and make a police report; it could actually work out in your favor.