Who Is Liable For Accidents On The Shoulder?

AUTHOR: A.J. Bruning | September 4, 2015
Who Is Liable For Accidents On The Shoulder?

An issue can occur while driving at any time. Some problems can create an accident, so drivers have to stop immediately. In many places, they can slow down and pull over to an area of the road called the shoulder.

Most states designate the shoulder lane for emergency vehicles. Still, passenger cars can use the area if being on the road puts them and others at risk. A driver on the shoulder is vulnerable.

Every year, hundreds of accidents take place on the shoulder lane. Usually, one party causes the injuries. However, sometimes many people bear liability. Find out below how a car accident lawyer can assist you in getting the results you deserve in your claim.

Types of Shoulders

You may come across different types of shoulders. For instance, you could see a sign for a soft shoulder. A soft shoulder consists of gravel instead of the same material as the rest of the road.

The resulting difference may pose a risk for motorists who need to use the lane for emergencies. The ground could be uneven or unstable to move on.

On the other hand, hard shoulders have pavement with the same material as the highway. The lane is less hazardous than its counterpart when someone needs to make an emergency stop. They may drive on a hard shoulder temporarily if necessary.

Part-time shoulder lanes mean a person can legally drive on the strip of road. Usually, signs indicate when motorists can move over. Shoulder lanes may open up at specific times of the day or on an as-needed basis. Any vehicles can use part-time shoulder lanes, including slow-moving trucks.

Regardless of the shoulder type, an accident could occur. The lane poses multiple risks for drivers and passengers.

Reasons Someone Stops on a Shoulder

A Flat Tire

The shoulder lane is a convenient place to stop in case an emergency occurs while on the road. A flat tire is one of the most common reasons someone would be on the shoulder. The causes of a flat tire can range from debris to high tire pressure.

Only 15 percent of new vehicles have flat-run tires. The wheels allow drivers to travel up to 50 miles in case of a puncture. Therefore, most motorists with flats need to stop immediately to change or call for roadside assistance.

An Overheating Engine

The engine of a car becomes hot after a while. The vehicle’s cooling system typically allows the heat to leave to keep the engine functioning. A leak or blockage may lead to overheating, and areas with hot climates are more likely to see issues.

If someone notices the temperature gauge increasing, they should pull over into the shoulder lane. They might need to step out of the car to check the engine.

Out of Gas

Some stretches of the road continue for miles in between rest stops. A person could run out of fuel before reaching the next gas station. As a result, they maneuver onto the shoulder of the road to get away from traffic. Some people wait for assistance, but others walk to the nearest gas station.

No matter the reason, the shoulder poses multiple risks to motorists. They might get into a collision due to another driver’s carelessness.

The Dangers of the Shoulder Lane

Driving on the Shoulder

The shoulder of the road can be hazardous for drivers, especially if they are on a highway. Annually, over 1,500 people experience injuries due to crashes on the shoulder. However, some people feel tempted to travel on the shoulder during rush hour.

Many places forbid the action due to the risks.

A few dangers of driving on the shoulder are:

  • Road rage. When someone travels on the shoulder, other motorists may feel frustrated by them. As a result, a driver might not let the car leave the lane and merge with traffic. The motorist with road rage might attempt an unsafe maneuver and cause an accident.
  • Collision with a stopped vehicle. The faster someone drives, the longer their stopping distance. A person might not notice a stopped vehicle in time to stop. They could collide with the other car or any pedestrians on the road.
  • Driver confusion. Motorists generally do not expect to see someone drive on the shoulder lane. As a result, they might not notice the other driver attempting to merge with traffic. Alternatively, a driver could see someone on the shoulder and swerve in confusion.
  • Dangerous shoulder drop-off. The drop-off is where the elevation briefly changes between the road and the shoulder. The change could be significant, and smaller vehicles risk losing control.

In many places, driving on the shoulder is illegal under most circumstances. Some states may have a few exceptions to the rule. Still, authorities advise people to avoid the shoulder when possible.

Stopping on the Shoulder

While driving on the shoulder lane is dangerous, stopping on the area of the road also can have risks. On the highway, a person faces a significant potential for an accident.

These reasons make stopping on the shoulder hazardous:

  • Flying debris. On highways and interstates, cars typically go 60 miles per hour or more. The vehicles create enough wind shear to send dirt and debris into the air. A rock or other small object could hit a pedestrian outside their car.
  • Low visibility. A driver might see a stopped car, but they are less likely to notice the owner. Visibility decreases if the owner bends over to fix a flat tire or check the engine. When a motorist finally spots a pedestrian, they might be too close to stop in time.
  • Collisions. A rear-end accident could occur when someone slows down to pull over on the shoulder. Additionally, a person risks suffering from a pedestrian accident if another car decides to move into the lane.

An accident in the shoulder lane can occur in various ways. Many of the reported cases are due to negligence. If you experience a collision, you may be able to hold the other driver responsible.

Who Is Liable for an Accident in the Shoulder Lane?

Accident claims require an investigation of the events to determine who is at fault. Circumstances may determine if the parked vehicle, passing car, or third-party entity is responsible for damages.

However, a state’s shoulder laws might make fault hard to establish. A person traveling in the emergency lane could have legal protection.

A Passing Car

The passing driver is a potentially liable party in shoulder accident cases. They have a duty of care to other people on the road. They need to remain aware of their surroundings, including the shoulder lane. If the investigation discovers they got distracted, you could sue for injuries.

The passing vehicle becomes liable for road rage or dangerous driving behaviors. Unsafe behaviors include speeding, drunk driving, and suddenly changing lanes.

The Stopped Vehicle

In a few cases, the stopped vehicle is potentially liable for a crash on the shoulder. You may have behaved cautiously behind the wheel. However, the parked car may not have pulled over correctly. The other driver could have partially blocked your lane.

You can also hold the driver of the stopped car liable if the person did not turn on their hazard lights. Without the lights, other motorists are less likely to see them. Nighttime lowers visibility and increases the risk of a collision.

Furthermore, you can hold the other party negligent if they could have moved to a safer alternative. However, they chose the more dangerous location.

The Government

Another entity could be responsible for an accident in the shoulder lane. For instance, a government agency failed to make the roads safe. The department could have made the shoulder drop-off dangerous and did not fix the issue on time.

Additionally, a significant pothole could have made a vehicle lose control. Your lawyer may find the government responsible for the poor road condition.

A Manufacturer

You could hold a vehicle parts manufacturer accountable if your attorney finds evidence of carelessness. A flawed design or improper parts production might have caused you to move to the shoulder.

Among the vehicle-related causes, 22 percent of crashes are due to faulty brakes. Several reported cases are likely due to the fault of a manufacturer. Your shoulder lane accident lawyer can find the evidence to prove the other party’s negligence.

Possible Injuries After a Shoulder Lane Collision

Injuries from shoulder lane accidents can be severe or even fatal for victims inside and outside their vehicles.

People usually need to seek treatment for:

  • Traumatic brain injuries. Car accidents make up roughly 17.3 percent of traumatic brain injury cases yearly. The effects of the condition can be severe. Therefore, a person could recover significant compensation in a claim.
  • Spinal cord injuries. Victims outside their vehicles are more vulnerable to spinal cord injuries and other back issues. In addition to medical bills, an individual may suffer from a loss of earning potential.
  • Broken bones. A collision in the shoulder lane can lead to one or more broken bones. Severe fractures usually result in the victim missing work for an extended period.
  • Burns. Fires are not regular occurrences in accidents, but burns can happen in other ways. A person might get a first-degree burn when their skin rubs against the seatbelt. Deployed airbags and contact with hot metal may cause injuries as well.

See a doctor as soon as possible. You can know the full extent of your condition and begin recovery early. Afterward, you may be able to recover from your losses.

Is a Car Safe to Drive After a Crash?

The extent of the damage determines if a vehicle is safe to operate. Usually, you must ensure the headlights, brake lights, turn signals, and wheels are functional. Furthermore, you might be able to drive in your car if it has no leaks.

The police might be able to assess the vehicle to ensure it still meets legal standards for safe driving. Some officers can detect what minor issues may affect your ability to operate the car.

However, you must visit a repair shop soon after a shoulder lane collision. Minor damage could worsen over time. For example, a crack on a windshield might grow. If it becomes large enough, the driver could experience visibility issues.

A car could have unseen damage as well. A ruined frame may not be noticeable at first. Nevertheless, a bent frame may affect the gas tank or engine while the vehicle moves.

A mechanic inspects your vehicle to identify every possible issue. They can perform the necessary repairs to make the car safe to drive again.

How Do You Know When to Accept a Settlement?

Many attorneys advise clients not to accept a quick settlement offer since the amount might be lower than they need. The adjuster may decide to increase the value of their offer. However, you might not know if you should sign the papers or not.

Different factors go into what would be a suitable amount. For instance, someone might have future medical expenses to consider. In addition, the value of non-economic damages varies from case to case.

You should not agree to a proposed settlement until you have spoken to a car accident lawyer. Attorneys know what elements contribute to a client's claim and how much money similar cases have received. They can estimate a reasonable settlement and advise you on how to acquire it.

Of course, you do not have to feel any pressure to accept. You can negotiate for more money or request a trial if you believe the at-fault party offered an unfair settlement.

Consider Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer

Worker’s Compensation Lawyers of St. Louis Personal Injury Law Firm
Car Accident Attorneys at The Bruning Law Firm

When a crash happens on the shoulder, you must report the matter to the insurance company. You would need to file a claim with them to get money for the damages. However, the process may take a while if an adjuster attempts to delay progress.

The insurance company may have other ways to make compensation difficult to get. Therefore, hire a car accident lawyer to deal with the insurer. Your attorney opens a line of communication with the adjuster to negotiate a suitable payment.

Another reason to consult a lawyer is to make your claim less stressful. They handle all the paperwork and ensure everything meets the deadline. Additionally, the attorney gathers and organizes relevant evidence to prove liability.

Several car accident firms may be available near you. You can schedule consultations to fight the right lawyer at no cost to you. Contact a personal injury lawyer today to get your consultation.

A.J. Bruning


I was born and raised to represent individuals who have been needlessly injured. I mean that literally. At a young age my father would tell me about the clients he was representing. I would meet them and take pride in their admiration of my father. I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and represent clients that needed my help.

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