INSURANCE: Rock Solid Prevention Tips

If a motorist claims a rock from one of your collection vehicles damaged his windshield, does your company pay for the damages? It all depends.

Regardless, there are steps refuse drivers can take to prevent such incidents from occurring and to know how to handle such situations should they arise.

Each year, thousands of motorists make claims against refuse companies for broken, cracked or chipped windshields, or alleged body damage. Some claims have merit, but in cases where no settlement is paid, both the refuse company and its insurance carrier incur administrative and investigative costs.

A waste company's liability hinges on two points. If an object, such as a stone, splinter of wood, piece of metal or part of tire shred, was kicked up, then it's considered a road hazard and the waste company isn't liable. However, if something falls off a truck, then the refuse company is responsible for damages.

To prevent incidents from occurring, drivers should:

  • Empty the rear-loader's hopper completely and secure any equipment, such as shovels, pry-bars and scavenged items.

  • Be aware of objects that spill over onto the roof of a front loader when a container is dumped. Debris can easily be blown off once the truck is moving.

  • Don't pack a truck while driving, which also can cause objects to fly out of the front loader.

  • Set bin doors high enough on recycle trucks so that cans or bottles don't blow out of vehicles.

  • Properly tarp all transfer trailers and roll-off boxes, which present the greatest risk of falling objects. Also, never use tethered or torn tarps, and clean the rails of transfer trailers and roll-offs.

  • Repair holes in roll-off boxes.

  • Watch out for roll-off boxes that are set on soft surfaces or gravel lots. Clumps of mud and gravel can accumulate on the wheels or on the structural beams under the box, and they often become dislodged when the truck hits a bump.

  • Replace warped or improperly fitting doors that allow objects to slip out.

    Keep in mind that when such steps are taken, motorists can still make debris claims. Consequently, refuse drivers and management should know how to handle these claims when they do occur, including how to document and report an incident. For example:

  • Contact dispatch immediately, noting the incident's location.

  • Without admitting any fault for the alleged incident, exchange license, vehicle, company and insurance information.

  • Find out the motorist's location when the vehicle was struck, the object's type and size, and where the object came from, i.e., the road's surface or the exact area of the refuse vehicle.

  • Inspect the refuse vehicle to confirm the type of load it's carrying and that the vehicle has been properly cleaned, packed and secured.

  • Inspect the other party's vehicle for the type and extent of damage. Look for any pre-existing damage or debris that may still be on the vehicle.

  • Note the traffic and road surface conditions, remembering any construction in the area, road surface deterioration or other truck traffic.

  • Document the weather conditions, time of day and how dark it is outside.

  • Immediately relay this additional information to dispatch or management once the truck is returned to the yard.

  • In instances when the driver of the other vehicle never confronts the refuse driver, it will be more difficult to confirm the facts and document the situation. However, when a call is received, dispatch should ask most of the same questions the driver would have asked, such as where the debris came from, what part of the vehicle is damaged, etc.

    Also, dispatch should insist that the motorists making the claim take photos of the vehicle and any remnants of the object that struck the vehicle. If the refuse driver is still in transit, immediately contact him to determine if he is aware of the incident. If so, request that he document as much as possible.

    Most incidents result in minor to moderate property damage and the police may be reluctant to respond or complete a report. Therefore, it is extremely important that the refuse driver, dispatch and management obtain and record all relevant facts.

    The refuse company should quickly advise the motorist of its position concerning liability by telephone and then in writing. A denial should specify that the company's vehicle was clean, properly packed and secured. All telephone calls should be documented and letters should be placed in company files.

    If the motorist refuses to accept the company's denial, the hauler should submit the matter to his insurance carrier. If the refuse company has thoroughly and properly documented its position, it will be easier for the insurer to reiterate a denial. In some instances, the refuse company may choose to pay a claim for customer service or public relations purposes.