Not Responsible for Broken Windshields

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As I pulled out of the parking lot after work the other day, I found myself immediately behind a dump truck. On the back of the truck was the following advisory: “Stay Back 300 Feet. Not Responsible for Broken Windshields.” I have often wondered whether such statements have any legal effect. I was particularly curious about it in this instance, since the truck was stopped at a stoplight. Was I really supposed to leave a football field’s worth of distance between the truck and my car as we sat there on Highway 54?

I don’t think so. By statute, “[n]o vehicle shall be driven . . . on any highway unless the vehicle is constructed and loaded to prevent any of its load from falling, blowing, dropping, sifting, leaking, or otherwise escaping therefrom.” G.S. 20-116(g)(1). Furthermore, large vehicles like dump trucks that are “loaded with rock, gravel, stone, or any other similar substance . . . that could fall, blow, leak, sift or drop shall not be driven . . . on any highway unless . . . [t]he load is securely covered by tarpaulin or some other suitable covering” to prevent spillage. G.S. 20-116(g)(2). Violation of these statutes is an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $100. G.S. 20-176. In other words, if a rock spills out of a dump truck, the driver of the dump truck has probably committed an infraction. I don’t believe that one can disclaim responsibility for the crimes and infractions that one commits.

In fact, I don’t believe that one can unilaterally disclaim responsibility even for simple negligence that doesn’t amount to a crime or an infraction. I’ll admit that I’m no expert in matters of civil liability, but I can’t believe that if I go around wearing a button that says “not responsible for my negligent acts,” that I’ve accomplished anything. Cf., e.g., Brockwell v. Lake Gaston Sales and Service, 105 N.C. App. 226 (1992) (holding that a boat storage and repair facility could not use a disclaimer to “exculpate itself from liability for its own negligence”); Parent Teacher Ass’n Public School 72 v. Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., 138 Misc. 2d 289 (N.Y. City Civ. Ct. 1988) (although a bank put an advisory on its statements to the effect that it was not liable for wrongly paid checks unless promptly notified of the error, “[u]nilaterally placing such an admonition on the statement could not alter the agreement of the parties or further limit the bank’s liability”); Rubin v. AMC Home Inspection, 418 A.2d 306 (N.J. Super. Ct. 1980) (“As unilateral statements of defendant, the content of [the home inspection report and cover letter] are not binding upon plaintiffs. Thus, the disclaimers of any guarantee or warranty as contained in the inspection report and the accompanying letter” have no legal effect.).

To summarize, then, my view is that a driver whose car is damaged by a rock spilled by a dump truck could file a negligence action for damages, and the advisory and disclaimer on the dump truck would not bar recovery because (1) it is unilateral and therefore ineffective, and (2) one cannot disclaim liability for crimes and infractions. Cf. generally Lee v. Rowland, 11 N.C. App. 27 (1971) (plaintiff alleged that a brace used on a truck bed was negligently designed and installed, and fell off, smashing her windshield and injuring her; her claims presented a jury question). Perhaps a violation of G.S. 20-116 would even be deemed negligence per se. Some provisions of Chapter 20 expressly state that violations are not negligence per se. See, e.g., G.S. 20-137.1 (child restraint systems required); 20-137.4 (use of cell phone by school bus driver). No similar provision appears in G.S. 20-116, suggesting at least the possibility that violations of that statute are per se negligent.

To be clear, I’m not saying that every time a car behind a dump truck suffers some damage, the dump truck driver or the company that owns the truck is responsible for it. Driving carries with it some risks that are not easily avoidable. If the dump truck kicks up a rock from the road and the rock chips a trailing car’s windshield, that’s just an accident, not negligence. But if a dump truck’s load isn’t properly secured and something falls out of the truck’s bed and hits a trailing car, the presence of an advisory and disclaimer doesn’t mean much.

13 comments on “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields

  1. It used to be fairly common to see signs posted in businesses that read “not responsible for accidents.” I always wondered why someone would think that had some legal effect.

  2. “If the dump truck kicks up a rock from the road and the rock chips a trailing car’s windshield, that’s just an accident, not negligence.” Actually this circumstance does not qualify as a traffic accident or collision according the the DMV 349- Traffic Accident Report manual. However, if an object falls off said dump truck then bounces up from the roadway damaging a following vehicle, it’s traffic accident and “failure to secure load” violation.

    Also, you may notice alot of hauling trucks now have a sign that says “NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OBJECTS FROM ROADWAY”, or some similar language, which I think is also misleading.

    Great post. Thanks.

    • I realize this post is older but as I am researching similar circumstances, I thought I would try this post. I was behind a cement truck with no warning signs. The left side did not have mud flaps behind the rear tires but the right side did. a rock was kicked up by the tires on the left and hit my windshield chipping it. I contacted the owner and he asked that I get 3 estimates and fax them to him. I did that two weeks ago and have yet to hear from him. Do I have any other cause of action?

  3. “To be clear, I’m not saying…”

    Who is “I”?

  4. You’re correct that you can’t unilaterally disclaim your own negligence. You can, however, put others on notice of a potential hazard and thereby create the possibility for a defense of contributory negligence in a civil lawsuit. I’ve always thought that was more the point of these warnings when I see them on the roadway.

  5. I am a dump truck driver we are responsiable for the load in the truck we must secure the load we are not responsable for objects picked up by tires on the road.

  6. Can anyone help me out? I have been in a battle with Triangle Grading and Paving. On Dec. 26th my fiance & I were coming from PTI and there was a truck in the left lane, we were in the right. As we came up behind him, he let lose of rock salt. They say they are not responsible because they were performing duties for the safety of the public. I know this is not true. They were under the authority of the DOT. The DOT told me the company SHOULD pay to have my windshield fixed. Anyone know the NC GS that would cover this? Thanks so much.

  7. Here is a nice site I found for various states laws:

    http://www.pulltarps.com/State_and_Federal_Truck_Tarping_Laws.htm#L

  8. I just replaced my windshield last week and got my brake tag. Then, on the way into work this morning, got hit by a rock. Made a nice loud thud and it was almost like it was raining from all the other loose gravel hitting my winshield. This was in the left most lane on the interstate (65-70mph) when I was behind this truck (quite a few feet too, maybe 6+ carlengths, as I could not read anything from how far I was). I switched to the middle lane, sped up, and snapped a pic of the license plate and also noticed on the back of his truck a sign reading “WARNING STAY BACK 200 FT. NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR BROKEN WINDSHIELDS!”. I also took a pic of the side of the truck with the company name and D.O.T. number. Called into my insurance this monring. They collected this info, but I am not sure if they are going to do anything to the company and that is what I am really hoping for more so, at least as a matter of principle.

  9. Ummmm, i’m sorry, this is justIMHO but, the vast majority of dump trucks that i see do NOT have any mudflaps whatsoever. Nor do they even have tags, making ID very difficult! If you kick up a rock, with no mudflaps whatsoever, and break my windshield, it seems rather clear to me who is at fault. Lets look at it a different way, if I kick up a rock and break YOUR windshield, with no mudflaps at all, who would YOU say is at fault?

    There really needs to be a law to make dumptruck owners keep their mudflaps in shape, so that this is not an issue….

  10. Their signs have no legal bearing, but getting the company to pay is difficult. Small claims court is usually the best avenue.

  11. I WAS COMING HOME ON INTERSTATE 40 EAST ABOUT MILE MARKER 1 THREW 5 BEHIND A TRACTOR TRAILER , LEAKING SOME KIND OF SMALL ROCK SHOULD HAVE PULLED OVER AND STOPPED HIME AT THE WEIGH STATION THERE BUT DIDNT NEEDLES TO SAY GOT HOME FRONT OF CAR A MESS WITH DINGS WINDSHIELD CRACKED , SO ALWAYS TRY TO STOP THE TRUCK THAT LEAKS , AND ANYONE ELSE HAS THAT PROBLEM WITH THAT TRACTOR TRAILER PLEASE LET ME KNOW ILL TURN CLAIM IN TO INSURANCE CO THANK YOU

  12. how about if theres mud on the dump trucks mud flaps and it falls off and breaks winshield

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