Road Debris


The liability of the owner/operator of a vehicle for injury due to a stone or other object on the surface of the road being thrown by the vehicle.


The general rule appears to be that absent any negligence on the part of the owner/operator of the vehicle, in addition to picking up and propelling an object from the roadway, the owner/operator will not be held liable. However, there is some case law supporting the proposition that the owner/operator can be held liable for failure to see the object.


I was unable to find any South Carolina cases on point.  In a number of cases the courts have held that the owner or operator of a vehicle was or could be found liable for injury or damage caused by a stone or other object on the surface of the road. See, e.g., Howard v. Bell, 62 S.E.2d 323 (N.C. 1950) (allowing plaintiff to recover from defendant truck driver who was driving at a “terrific rate of speed” when he picked up some loose rock and gravel, hurling it at the plaintiff’s windshield); Teche Lines, Inc. v. Bateman, 139 So. 159 (Miss. 1932) (holding a bus company liable to an automobile passenger whose eye was injured when struck by a piece of rock or gravel that came through the automobile windshield when a bus passed at a speed of at least 40 miles per hour on a gravel road); James v. Checker Taxi Co., 159 N.E.12 (Ill. App. Ct. 1959) (upholding liability of taxicab driver who backed his cab with great speed onto the sidewalk where he struck a soft drink bottle, causing it to break and strike plaintiff). However, it appears that in these cases the defendant usually acts negligently beyond simply picking up an object and propelling it. Relevant factors to finding negligence are the vehicle’s speed, the condition of the road, and the vehicle’s equipment. See Adkins v. Greyhound Corp., 357 S.W.2d 860 (Ky. 1962) (sending question of negligence to the jury in an action where passenger on a bus was injured by a rock thrown through the windshield by concrete mixer truck because vehicle was not equipped with fenders to prevent danger).  On the other hand, many courts have declined to find a defendant negligent when there is no showing of negligence in addition to causing an object to be propelled. See, e.g., Le Tourneau v. Krook, 186 N.W.2d (Minn. 1971) (finding insufficient evidence to find truck driver negligent for a rock being propelled through an automobile windshield where: (1) both vehicles were being operated at reasonable speeds in their respective highway lanes at the time of accident, (2) no one saw the rock lying on the highway before the accident, (3) there were no tire marks on the rock, and (4) the first time the rock was seen was when it was in motion); Miller v. Bolyard, 97 S.E.2d 58 (W. Va. 1957) (finding defendant truck driver not negligent where a large stone which had been embedded in the truck’s wheels was propelled into the air and struck the plaintiff because each of the vehicles were operating at a reasonable speed and the court refused to find that a rock in the truck’s wheel constituted negligence).

However, there are also some cases that have found a defendant negligent simply for failing to see a rock in the roadway. See Larson v. Macias, 479 P.2d 439 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1971) (affirming lower court’s ruling that defendant was liable for picking up a rock and striking the plaintiff on the theory that the truck driver was negligent for failing to see the rock in the roadway).