Recently I was driving from Madison to Milwaukee on I-94. I was traveling around 60 miles an hour, taking it easy, when suddenly I swerved onto the shoulder of the highway to dodge something lying on the roadway. After I safely re-entered the lane and gravel stopped kicking up around me, I glanced back in the rear-view mirror. There, in the middle of the lane, was a mountain bike.

I was fortunate not to hit that bike, but another less-attentive motorist might not have been as lucky. But it made me think about road debris. In Wisconsin, drivers see a lot of debris out there. It could be floaties and fishing poles flying from a boat in the summer, a bike that wasn’t secured properly, or refuse from roadwork around the state. A lot of crashes are caused by road debris. If you’re injured in a crash because of it, it’s hard to know if anybody can be held liable for it.

In this article, I’ll dig into road debris liability, what you can do to get compensation, and more.

Understanding Road Debris

Road debris refers to anything on the roadway that shouldn’t be there, such as litter, furniture, garbage, glass, and other materials. Any type of material like this on the road can create a significant risk of accidents.

For example, large items like the bike I saw can lead to rollovers. Other times, a person who suddenly comes upon a trash can in the road may swerve to avoid it, striking a car in another lane or across the median. It’s also common for road debris to lead to crashes when a person stops suddenly to avoid it and the driver behind them hits them.

Legal Framework in Wisconsin for Road Debris Accidents

In Wisconsin, drivers operating a vehicle with anything in tow or hauling material must take every step possible to prevent that debris from hitting the road. If a vehicle is unsafe to drive, it should not be on the road. This includes vehicles that are leaking or are carrying unsecured items.

Who Can Be Held Liable?

Negligence plays a role in all accidents on Wisconsin roads. If a driver spills a load of garbage out of the back of their truck and you’re injured as a result, then they’re liable. However, it’s not always easy to determine how road debris got on the road.

Usually, we’ll attempt to investigate and identify available information and evidence showing how the debris got on the roadway. Liability often ends up falling on the following:

  • Private companies like construction firms or trucking companies who are responsible for spilling material onto the roadway
  • Individual drivers who lose cargo or toss trash out of their windows

What About Governments and Municipalities?

Generally speaking, Wisconsin and its counties aren’t liable for damage to your vehicle caused by road debris or potholes. However, in the event of negligence causing injury, you may be able to hold the municipality responsible with the guidance of an experienced attorney.

Proving Liability in Wisconsin

To prove another party is responsible, your attorney or the police must gather all evidence available to form a compelling case. Evidence could come from:

  • Photos and police report data
  • Eyewitnesses
  • Traffic, dashboard, and security cameras

Remember, Wisconsin is a comparative negligence state. This means that you could be held partially liable for your crash. For example, if I had been driving behind the vehicle that the bike fell out of, but I was distracted while driving and crashed, I could be held partially responsible.

What to Do If You’re Injured by Road Debris in Wisconsin

If you’re injured in a crash caused by road debris, there are several things you can do straight away to achieve the best possible outcome, even if the liable driver isn’t at the scene of the crash. Make sure to do the following:

  • Call the police: Even when you think your injuries are minor, having a police report documenting the accident can be a huge help when it comes to receiving compensation. This holds particularly true when the other driver is unknown or uninsured.
  • Obtain contact information: Names, addresses, and phone numbers of witnesses or the responsible driver will be helpful after you leave the scene.
  • Document the scene: If your injuries permit you to move decently, make sure to document the scene. Take photos and videos of everything present, such as the vehicles and the damage and the scene of the crash.

Pasternak and Zirgibel Will Fight For You

Injuries caused by road debris can be expensive: crash-related hospitalization costs almost $60,000 over a person’s lifetime. When you’re injured due to road debris, those burdensome costs could end up being your responsibility.

Fortunately, even when it seems like there’s nothing you can do, a personal injury lawyer may be able to help you recover damages. Additionally, you may be able to receive more compensation from your own insurer than you think, but it will take the skill and expertise of an experienced personal injury attorney to obtain it. Plus, because personal injury attorneys typically work on contingency, you have nothing to lose by hiring one.

Understanding your options is the first step toward recovering the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one have been injured in a crash caused by road debris, don’t wait for your insurance company to do the right thing: contact Pasternak and Zirgibel today to schedule a free case evaluation.