Dump trucks: blanket denials of responsibility in bad faith

N.B.: This question pertains primarily to US law.

It’s been pretty well-established in the past on this board (and many other places) that when dump trucks display stickers suggesting they’re not liable for broken windshields, they have almost no legal weight. Depending on circumstances and local law, they’re not liable for some broken windshields and fully liable for others.

I’m wondering whether there’s any prohibition against making false claims about the law when one has reason to know better. An owner/operator of a dump truck displaying such a sticker probably knows that there are many circumstances under which he/she is liable for broken windshields, so displaying such a sticker seems like a bald attempt to dissuade legitimate claims by making false claims about the law.

Non-lawyers must surely be granted wide latitude in this area. Wacky claims about what’s legal and what’s not are a staple of barroom conversation across the US. It doesn’t make much sense to punish people for honest misapprehensions about the law, especially when they have no legal training. And lawyers are very careful not to offer legal advice without explicitly meaning to.

But it seems to me that non-lawyers could, under some circumstances, be reasonably expected to know how the law applies. In these cases, claiming that there is no liability when there certainly is—especially in an attempt to dissuade legitimate claims—seems like an attempt to negotiate in bad faith. Of course, these things likely vary depending on jusrisdiction.

In one counterexample, police officers generally know the law better than non-LEOs, but are not necessarily required to in all circumstances. What’s more, it’s legal for an officer to lie to a suspect in the course of an investigation. So this is one place where operating in bad faith is explicitly legal.

In another counterexample, let’s say that a rock falls from a truck’s load, goes through a windshield and kills a passenger in a car behind the truck. I imagine that’s it’s perfectly legal for a lawyer representing the trucking company to claim, in a moment of bluster or as a bluff, that “no court will ever assign liability to my client” even if the attorney in question knows that he/she is very likely to lose in court.

Attorneys have a duty of candor towards the court and its officers (in my layman’s understanding, anyway) so they’re a special case, as far as I can tell. And a dump truck driver probably doesn’t have a duty of candor towards other drivers, so maybe bumper-sticker claims made in bad faith are entirely legal.

Is it ever a crime (or a civil infraction) to knowingly lie about being liable for something? I see that it isn’t always, but the dump-truck example seems like such an overt bad-faith attempt at legal bullying that I have to wonder.

It’s illegal to make false claims about consumer law in Aus, and, as I remember it, also in the USA (perhaps California?).

That is, some items are covered by statutory warranty, you must notify the consumer of the rights, and it is illegal to claim that those rights don’t exist.

Since this is a particular provision of consumer rights legislation, it implies that the same is not true for other responsibilities. (The exception proves the rule!)

In the US, there is a statute outlawing “false claim of copyright”. However, it occurs on a massive scale, because there is no civil penalty for doing so (except a court may require removing the claim) and no civil remedy to recover payments made to someone falsely claiming copyright.

It’s become a sizable business for companies to falsely claim copyright, and then demand payments from people for use of that material. Also for businesses to use false claims of copyright (especially under the DCMA) to force online sites to take down materials. Often used against competitors, especially ones selling generic versions of products. For example, a company selling generic vacuum bags with their online listing saying that they ‘fit brand X vacuums’ – Brand X says that mentioning their company name is a copyright violation and demands that the online site remove that listing.

Sort of relevant… My brother used to haul for a sand and gravel company. Before every load, before the gravel was put in, they would run a line of duct tape on the inside of the tail gate to keep stuff from falling out. Yeah. They know.

It’s been attempted, but I don’t know of it being successful in a modern setting. Nominative use has been fairly established law since the 90s, at least. Though going beyond fits Brand X or compare to Brand X does increase the risk of not falling withing nominative use.

Same in the UK. Where you have “statutory rights” as a shopper, that AFAIK don’t exist anywhere in the US.

So having a sign saying “No refunds” would be not just meaningless (you are guaranteed a refund if the product is not “fit for purpose”) it would in itself be actionable (I don’t what the remedy would be, and by whom).

I was going to try and find a good example, but instead here is a big info dump. False DMCA claims are often used to remove content that someone doesn’t like. They don’t have to convince a court, they just have to convince a bot at Youtube, Amazon, etc. The claims don’t have to even make any sense, just check the right boxes. Feel free to be outraged, just don’t take it out on me.

As to the OP, I don’t have a good answer except that in the US telling people they can’t say something runs into the first amendment. There is more room for restrictions on commercial speech, such as false advertising laws, though.

Thinking about it, what I’ve most usually seen on dump trucks around these parts is the claim THIS VEHICLE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OBJECTS FROM ROAD or some such verbiage. IANAL, but this is no doubt perfectly true: I’m driving along, I run over a piece of gravel (no reasonable driver can be expected to avoid driving over a piece of gravel on the road; even if it could be seen in time, it would be unsafe and imprudent to even try) but my tire happens to hit aforesaid piece of gravel just the right way this time, it gets kicked up, and WHAP! puts a chip or a crack in your windshield. Is that my fault?

And the sign therefore gives you a clue as to the line of defense the Dump Truck Company’s lawyers can be expected to take: “Well, how do you know it was gravel from my client’s improperly secured load–allegedly! allegedly improperly secured load–that damaged your windshield? It could have just been ‘road debris’. We can’t be held responsible for every piece of ‘road debris’!” (Also, the THIS VEHICLE NOT RESPONSIBLE… verbiage is often paired with some stern injunction to KEEP BACK 500 FEET or some such unlikely number. See, if you hadn’t been “tailgating” then that “road debris” that our truck’s tires kicked up–from the surface of the road, natch–would never have hit your windshield in the first place.)

Still Not A Lawyer, but I suspect these signs are less about some ironclad legal defense, and more about sending a signal that it’s not worth suing these guys over a crack in your windshield, 'cause they’ll never, ever admit responsibility, and you’ll wind up spending more money (not to mention time and effort) than it would cost to just fix the thing yourself. (Or file a claim with your insurance company, if you’ve still got comprehensive coverage.)

No, I’m not asking about how enforceable the claim in the sticker is. It’s essentially unenforceable, as I mentioned in my OP.

I was asking about whether there was any legal issue in a non-expert-but-should-know-better bad-faith blanket denial of liability.

As several posters helpfully pointed out, Australian consumer law and American copyright law carve out explicit exceptions to false claims. (Both systems share a common ancestor in English common law). Following the principle that the exception tests the rule, such exceptions wouldn’t be necessary if making those false legal claims in general were a problem.

Maybe such a sticker would help make the case that the driver/company is operating in bad faith in handling its liability generally, or something like that. But even though there’s more than a whiff of bullying here, it sounds like there’s no direct legal proscription against that.

But I think it is relevant exactly what claim the sticker is making. A little Googling shows that the “standard” sticker does indeed seem to be “This Vehicle Not Responsible For Objects Coming From Road”. Which is not, strictly speaking, a “bad-faith blanket denial of liability”–although one can certainly surmise that it is artfully worded to give a certain impression about liability, and about that company’s likely response to claims of damage from improperly secured loads, and so on.

This Vehicle Not Responsible for Meteors Falling From Outer Space and Cracking Your Windshield

Ah, I guess my brain switched off at copyright violation. Thought it was referring to lawsuits. Thanks for the correction.

And a technical point: I don’t think that vehicles can generally be held responsible for their misdeeds. But the owners or operators of the vehicle can.

Now I got to get some bumper stickers made.

Yep. The thing a lot of people don’t understand is that there is no such thing as an ironclad disclaimer or warning label or whatever. The only thing that really matters is whether the jury thinks you took reasonable steps to warn the ‘victim.’ So really it serves the point that (A) you warn the public to keep their distance, (B) you dissuade them from trying to sue you, but most importantly (C) you can go to a jury and say, “I tried to warn them.” If the jury sees that you took reasonable steps to warn the victim, they might find you not liable or at least reduce your liability.

This is my understanding. If someone said “No court will ever assign liability,” or “My client cannot be held liable,” that could be interpreted as argument on behalf of the client. If the lawyer were referred for ethics violations, it would be pretty reasonable to argue that he was stating his legal opinion or argument, rather than making a verifiable statement of fact.

On the other hand, if the lawyer said something like, “The Springfield City Ordnance states in section five that no dump truck is ever liable for its contents,” that would be a bit shakier. Because he is making a factually verifiable claim (eg quoting a section of the law) it is much harder for the lawyer to claim he was only offering an opinion. Any decent lawyer would know exactly how they should phrase it so that they made it clear they were offering an assessment. (eg “My interpretation is…” or “A reasonable reading of the law would indicate…”) As I mentioned above, there is no black-and-white line that defines exactly what the lawyer must or cannot say, but rather they would have to refer to the case precedent and ethics committees for examples of what has been found permissible (or impermissible) in the past.

I find that a little Googling shows that the “windshields” version is predominant. That link is to a Google image search for “dump truck not responsible for”. 75-80% of the first set of images refer to windshield damage directly.

Regardless of which disclaimer is more prevalent, clearly both are fairly common. And the “windshields” version is, strictly speaking, a bad-faith blanket denial of liability (at least it is to me). The way I read the posts so far, it seems like such a statement is perfectly legal.

But the existence of two disclaimer versions, one more aggressive than the other, suggests that some group of people in that industry thinks the “not responsible for windshield damage” is an overreach, whether from a legal perspective, a public-relations perspective or both.

I cannot understand why so many people are so fixated on the assumption that truck owners/operators are thinking of unsecured loads when they post those stickers.

My grandpa always got nervous when we drove close behind ANY sort of big truck – precisely because he knew that they sometimes kick up rocks from the road.

And guess what–
a lot of times, those rocks are going to impact the following car’s windshield.

I simply cannot understand why such a simple concept is such a big, unfathomable mystery to so many people.

I believe the stickers usually say “not responsible for broken windshields”, sometimes adding in “stay back X feet”. And, yes, if they kick up a rock from the road, that wouldn’t be their fault. However, most people have been behind a truck that’s spills gravel/rocks every time it hits a bump. That would be their fault and they would/should be responsible for that. I shouldn’t have to pay for a car repair because they’re dumping rocks all over the highway.

As for them being kicked up from the road, I think it’s more the case that they’re driving on construction sites (and pouring gravel) and stuff gets caught in the treads and launches at you when the truck gets up to speed. I assume that would be their problem as well, but I’m not sure.

In my opinion, the reason is mostly so that if you do end up with a broken windshield you take the sticker at face value, assume they’re not liable and don’t attempt to get them to pay for it. It probably works half the time. To a lesser extent, it’s to keep people back so it just doesn’t happen in the first place.
Reminds me of a story (I think I read it here) about a used car dealership that had a sign posted which explicitly stated “ALL SALES FINAL, NO RETURNS”. The state that the dealership was in had a buyers remorse law that allowed you to return a car within X days, no questions asked. The sign was there simply to dissuade people from attempting it.
Also, regardless of where the blame lies, don’t drive behind a truck that has a rock or chunk of wood wedged between the two rear tires. It’s going to come rocketing out at some point. Even if’s their fault, it won’t matter if you’re dead.

In any case, it’s all the more reason to have a dashcam. It’s no longer your word against theirs.

(and while I’m here, put your split rims in a cage. I mean, it’s fun to watch on youtube, but people get killed that way).

ETA, just to reiterate, dump truck drivers are absolutely using those stickers in hopes that people don’t call them or the police when rocks fall out of their truck and damage their cars. If it was just about rocks being innocently thrown from the road, then it would be an issue with all vehicles and responsibility (or lack thereof) would be more well known. But the vast majority of the time you’re getting pelted with rocks, it’s coming from a truck hauling rocks and spilling them on he road. That’s their problem, not the owner of the windshield they damaged.

From Georgia law:

So, in Georgia (and I would guess this is true in most every state), dump truck operators are legally responsible for making sure their cargo does not fall off their truck and hit you. Really, all vehicle owners in Georgia (including me) have that responsibility, but…

I can’t recall ever seeing one of these stickers on anything but a dump truck. Not semis; not delivery vans; not buses; I don’t even think I’ve seen one on the back of a cement mixer. It’s always precisely the sort of vehicle that might very well violate Georgia Code § 40-6-248.1 that seem to feel the need to remind everyone that they’re not responsible for objects coming from road, no sir!

I have an acquaintance that had the back of his pick up loaded with boxes of fruit and vegetables (on his way to a farmer’s market). He took a turn to fast and bunch of them dumped off the side spilled out on the road. It only took him a few minutes to get it picked up, but a cop pulled up as he was just finishing and wrote him a ticket for improperly securing the contents of his truck.

I’ve seen “keep back X distance” signs on the backs of snow plow/sanding trucks, “this vehicle makes frequent stops” on buses & maintenance vehicles, and “this truck makes wide turns” signs on big transport trucks… but yeah “not responsible for damage from” signs seem to usually be seen only on dump trucks.

That might have to do with the assumption that so many people have that the only source of flying rocks is dump trucks. But as has been pointed out, the rocks that cause most chips and cracks are those flung out of tire treads, and any vehicle with big spaces between treads that can hold decent sized rocks can throw them (though you’d think that vehicles that frequent graveled yards would get rocks jammed into their treads more often than those staying on pavement).

Any time I’ve gotten a big chip the only thing I see is a quick flash of the rock coming at the last fraction of a second and then hear a loud CRACK sound. The glimpses of the moving rocks I’ve seen have mostly been too brief for me to actually see where they came from; most of the time I just assume it came from the vehicle directly in front of me.