Right of way in public Street

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Right of way in public Street

A contractor dropped a load of gravel in a public street to me about a third of the way across the street. My wife’s truck the gravel pile on the way home from work as she was unable to swerve around it. Is the homeowner or the construction company liable for the damages done to her car?

Asked on September 29, 2017 under Accident Law, Kansas


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

The homeowner would definitely NOT be responsible for this: they did not cause the gravel to be dropped there, were not at fault for or were the cause of its location, and the mere fact they hired a contractor does not make them liable for what the contractor does.
The contractor *may* be liable; it depends on the balance of fault in this situation, which is a subjective determination based on the exact circumstances. If they were at fault and your wife was not,  they should be liable for the full amount of damage; if your wife was at fault and they were not, they would not be liable at all; if they and your wife were both at fault, they'd be liable for a share of the damage more-or-less proportionate to their degree or relative percentage of fault.
Here are some examples of how fault could play out:
1) A small pile (say 3' or 4' diameter) is dropped near the curb, where cars might normally park: they would not be at fault, since your wife should not be driving in the "breakdown" or "parking" lane anyway, and this is appropriate location to deposit something; your wife would be at fault.
2) The gravel is dropped in the travel lane or is so large a pile that even if dropped near the curb, it protrudes into the travel lane, and does not leave a safe zone to get around it: if your wife was driving carefully and within the speed limit, the contractor should be solely at fault; but if your wife were speeding or driving distractedly (e.g. texting or on a handheld phone) at the time, she would likely be at fault, too, since she would have been driving carelessly.

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