Get Gephardt: A rock smacks your windshield, so who pays for the damaged glass?

Sep 14, 2022, 10:48 PM | Updated: Sep 15, 2022, 11:23 am
The smashed windshield after debris hit it....
The smashed windshield after debris hit it.

Freeway debris can be scary, dangerous and expensive. When a Payson woman says a construction company refused to pay for the damage they caused to her car, she decided it was time to Get Gephardt.

Any Utah driver has likely experienced the frustration of rock smacking your windshield and leaving a nasty crack. But what hit Diane Van Nosdol’s windshield was not just a pebble or small piece of gravel from the roadbed. It was a fist-sized stone that left a fist-sized circular crack, right in the line of her sight.

“When it cracked like that,” Van Nosdol recounted, “I thought it was going to hit me. I did. I thought it was going to come through.”

She said she watched it fall off the dump truck in front of her, that from a photo she took, has an uncovered bed. She believes the company owes her $450 for her new windshield. The company disagrees.

“They told me that they will not be responsible for that after their investigation,” Van Nosdol said. “And I’m just like, this can’t happen.”

Attorney Michael Anderson of Ascent Law says it can and does.

“That’s one of the costs of driving on the road and driving on pavement,” said Anderson. “With respect to somebody not having a secured load, that’s a very different story.”

Anderson does not represent Diane Van Nosdol nor the company that owns the dump truck.

He explained a driver is responsible for any damage they cause if something falls off their vehicle. But they are not liable if their car happens to kick up debris that is already on the road.

“If it’s coming from the road itself and just gets flipped up into somebody’s car, it’s kind of out of luck,” Anderson explained. “You have your own insurance to be able to take care of that. The law doesn’t protect from standard debris that’s sitting on the side of the road.”

But in cases where the rock came directly from the truck, that could be difficult to prove.

“If you’re talking about rocks from the road that look like little pieces of asphalt, that’s a really, that’s a really hard thing to prove.”

Van Nosdol’s photo showing an uncovered load could, maybe, persuade a judge that the driver was negligent. But there is a common misconception that simply having an uncovered load is against the law.

Utah’s tarp law states the load does not need to be covered if its highest point doesn’t go above the truck’s bed and the load’s outer edges are at least 6 inches below the top of the bed.

And while those signs on the back of trucks saying “stay back — we’re not liable for rock damage” give wise advice, they do not automatically absolve responsibility. And the consequences of having an unsecured load can lead to consequences a lot steeper than just paying to fix a windshield.

“It can be everything from just a legal infraction all the way up to a misdemeanor a that they could serve 180 to 365 days in jail,” Anderson said.

So, what kind of proof could help sway a case your way?

Anderson said to take pictures right away.

“I need a picture of what the load looked like,” he said. “And if you’re able to get a picture of the license plate of the person that you know that the thing fell out of their truck.”

You may have to wait until you get to a stoplight, or if you have a passenger, get them to video the truck. Dashcam video is even better.

We contacted the company that owns the truck that Van Nosdol says dropped the big rock that broke her windshield. They did not respond to our requests for comment.

Free windshield replacements are mandated under some state car insurance laws, but Utah is not one of them. So, the deductible for a new windshield could be higher than buying one out of your own pocket.

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Get Gephardt: A rock smacks your windshield, so who pays for the damaged glass?