Phantom Vehicle RuleWhat happens when you hit an object on the road? You can’t find the owner of the vehicle that dropped that road debris. What do you do now? If you are injured, who compensates you for your injuries?

Phantom Vehicle Rule – The Road Debris Issue: We see it all the time, there are always objects on the road and usually, we can take quick action and avoid it. But what if you can’t avoid it? What if you hit it and now you are injured? You can’t track down the owner of the road debris. You can’t make a claim against an unknown person’s insurance. You can’t even find the person or their insurance. Are you covered under your own insurance? The answer is maybe.

Road debris accidents are similar to a Hit and Run in that you can’t find the owner or driver of the vehicle that hit you, but here, you can’t find the owner of the of the debris that you hit. It’s also similar because coverage depends on the California Insurance Code for Hit and Run accidents. So, you may be covered under your Uninsured Motorist Coverage if your accident meets the following criterion.

The first requirement is that there must be physical contact between your vehicle and the debris. But, here’s the problem. California Law requires that “physical contact” between your vehicle and the road debris occur while the road debris is in motion. That means if you hit an object on the road that was stationary or inert, i.e. just laying still on the ground, then there is no physical contact. The physical contact requirements come from the Hit and Run part of the California Insurance Code.

Under Oanh Thi Pham v. Allstate Insurance Company (1998) 206 Cal. App. 4d 1195, the appellate court held that a rock falling off an unidentified vehicle that hit Plaintiff Pham’s vehicle was considered within the meaning of the  “physical contact” requirement as intended by the legislature.  The Oanh Thi Pham court stated that the uninterrupted chain, a rock tumbling from the passing dump truck struck the ground and rebounded into the windshield of the insured’s vehicle in which the plaintiff was an occupant was within the meaning of the physical contact rule as intended by the legislature. For this analysis, the Oanh Thi Pham court referred to another case called Inter-Insurance Exchange v. Lopez (1965) 238 Cal. App. 2d 441, 444 stating hypothetically, “If Car X had lost a wheel and the wheel had hit Car C, this would clearly be directly physical touching of Car C by a part of Car X.”  (Id. at p. 444.)

The main requirement is that the object that hit your car was still in motion at the time of the impact. If the object was stationary, the requirement of motion would not be met and you will not be covered under your Uninsured Motorist Coverage. Call The Law Firm of R. Sam to learn more or discuss your case in greater detail.