Liability for Defective Tire Truck Accidents
If you have ever experienced a tire blowout, you know it is one of the scariest things you can experience as a driver. A blowout is a sudden loss of pressure to the tire. As a result of the pressure loss, a vehicle may shift suddenly, causing the driver to lose control. For a passenger vehicle, the consequences can be terrifying. For a large semi-truck, they can be nothing short of disastrous.
While tire blowouts don’t happen as often as they have in the past, all you have to do is look at the tire remnants on the side of the road to see that they still happen. Many factors can contribute to a tire blowout, including damage, heat, and underinflation. But one of the most common reasons for tire blowouts is tire defects.
The Prevalence of Tire Issues With Large Trucks
How often do you think about your vehicle’s tires? What about the truck beside you? Those tires are pretty big, right? Unless we get a notice that it’s time to rotate our tires or that little light on the dashboard blinks on, most of us don’t give tires a second thought. But when it comes to large trucks, drivers have to think about their tires on a daily basis. If they don’t, the consequences could be a deadly truck accident.
The federal government requires all drivers to complete a daily inspection before each trip. This includes a thorough inspection of all tires. Unfortunately, even with these measures in place, tire problems continue to be a serious problem in the trucking industry.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, of the trucks involved in the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the study included at least one vehicle issue. While brake issues topped the list, tires came in at number two for vehicle specific matters.
Tire Defects: Sometimes Recalls Aren’t Enough
As drivers, we rely on auto part manufacturers to produce quality parts for our vehicles. These parts can literally mean the difference between life and death. In the trucking industry, drivers and employers have the same expectations. They expect the tires they use to meet federal and state safety guidelines.
Unfortunately, tire recalls happen at an alarmingly high rate. In 2019, U.S. manufacturers listed 14 separate tire recalls, many involving major brands. In August of that year, Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. issued a recall affecting 4,045 commercial trucks. The recall stated that the tires may contain a certain defect that could “develop into a tire failure in the sidewall.” While there were no death or injuries related to this specific recall, the recall came eight months after the tires were produced.
Who’s Responsible For A Defective Tire Accident?
It seems obvious; if a manufacturer makes a faulty part, they should be liable. And in practically all cases, in the event of a death or injury, the manufacturer will hold some level of responsibility. A recall does not eliminate this responsibility. But in many cases, the manufacturer may not be the only one with liability. Responsible parties may include:
The Tire Manufacturer
When all is said and done, the tire manufacturer should hold the lion’s share of the responsibility. They have a legal duty to produce a product that is safe for all consumers. When they fail, they should immediately notify the public and remove any products off the shelves. Sadly, recalls often aren’t enough. According to a National Traffic Safety Board study, out of the 3.2 million tires that were recalled in a four-year period, 56 percent remained on the road after the recall.
A Tire Distributor
During a tire recall, the manufacturer shall provide notice to any owners and retailers that sell that specific tire. At this point, the manufacturer should immediately remove all tires subject to the recall from their shelves. If a distributor continues to sell the faulty tires or does not remove the tires in a timely manner, they put the lives of drivers at risk.
The Truck Driver
Most truck drivers know their tires inside and out. They know what they should look like, the proper tread, and signs of damage. While not all defects are visible, often signs of premature damage are. Drivers should not use tires that display obvious defects or damage. Additionally, the driver has a responsibility to stay up to date with tire recalls and replace any that are subject to a recall.
The Truck Driver’s Employer
The employer’s duties are similar to the driver’s. Though they may not conduct daily inspections, they should still stay up to date on recalls. They should know what type of tires are on their trucks and be able to quickly identify any issues. In the event of a recall, the employer should take the truck off the road; not at the end of a shift or the end of a work week, but immediately.
A Maintenance Shop or Technician
Just like employers, repair shops should also be aware of any active recalls. If they see a vehicle that has defective tires, they have a duty to report the issue to the employer and driver. Likewise, there is no excuse to ignore signs of defect, fail to mention abnormal wear, or use recalled parts.
Other Tire Issues
Tire defects are just part of the problem. Many other factors can affect tire safety. In Florida, high temperatures can aggravate these conditions as extreme temperatures make tires more vulnerable to blowouts. In fact, the summer months are so bad that many tire professionals designate the period between May and August as “blowout season.” Other factors that can affect tire performance and vehicle safety include:
There’s a common misconception that overinflation causes most tire blowouts. In actuality, the opposite is true. Firestone says when there is not enough air in a tire, the side of the tire flexes, which in turn creates heat. As we learned earlier, too much heat can cause a tire blowout. Drivers should check tire pressure before every trip. The United States Department of Transportation recommends drivers check their tire pressure every day while the vehicle is still cold, as readings will increase once the vehicle heats up.
If you’re a vehicle owner, you know how important tire maintenance is. If there’s a leak, you get it fixed. If the tread is low, it’s time to replace the tires. Regular maintenance and tire rotations not only extend the life of the tires, but they help keep you safe. It goes without saying that these measures are extremely important for truck drivers. In the event of an accident, maintenance logs can show when the tires were last serviced and their condition at the time.
Every tire comes with weight recommendations. This is the maximum weight the vehicle should carry to maintain tire integrity. However, drivers may exceed these weight limits if they are running behind or need to carry more freight. This practice is very dangerous and can cause rapid deterioration of the tires. If a driver does this repeatedly, they may not realize something is wrong until it’s too late.
Unfortunately, not all accidents are preventable. While tires can withstand some amount of damage, a collision with a large or sharp piece of debris can cause significant, unpredictable damage. In this case, no amount of planning or precautions could have prevented the blowout. As such, it’s always important that drivers know how to quickly and safely respond to a tire blowout.
How to Prove There Was a Tire Defect
Sadly, most defendants and insurance companies are not eager to admit fault, even when the facts are indisputable. That’s why it’s important to document and collect evidence to prove your case. While you may be able to collect some of the evidence at the time of the accident, your lawyer can help you with the rest. Things that can help prove a tire defect include:
- Accident photos. You’d be surprised how stories change from the time of the accident to the time you talk to the insurance company. You never know how a driver will react in the event of an accident. If the accident was the result of their negligence, their job may be on the line, and hence, they may act accordingly. After an accident, it should be pretty easy to spot that there was a tire blowout. Take pictures of the tire, any remnants, and the condition of the truck after the accident.
- Maintenance and inspection logs. It’s important to know when a truck receives service, where the work took place, and what parts were included in the repair or maintenance. These reports can provide a lot of information. Inspection reports are also valuable. They can show inadequate inspections, missing inspections, or prior knowledge of a defect.
- Recall notices. Did the manufacturer issue a recall? Did they send a notice to the trucking company? Did the trucking company receive the notice? The answers to these questions can point to what level of responsibility each party holds.
- Consumer data. In some cases, there may not be an active recall. If all other factors check out, it may be prudent to check if there were other accidents involving the same type of tire and whether or not the manufacturer is aware of any outstanding issues. If the manufacturer had prior knowledge and failed to issue a timely recall, you may be able to prove gross negligence.
What to Do if You Witness a Tire Blowout
One of the reasons tire blowouts are so dangerous is because they don’t just affect the truck and the vehicle they collide with. The debris can fly into the path of nearby vehicles, causing secondary accidents. Below are a few tips to keep you safe:
- Keep your distance. It’s never a good idea to drive too close to a semi-trailer. Beyond the risk of a blowout, you also have to consider other mechanical failures, the truck’s load, and its blind spots. If you can, it’s always best to avoid driving side by side with a large truck. If you are driving behind a large truck, allow plenty of distance.
- Move over. If you see a tire blowout, move away from the truck as quickly and safely as possible. Do not slam on your brakes or drive into the path of another vehicle. This can cause an accident on its own. If you are behind the truck, slow down in a safe and controlled manner.
- Buckle up. In the event of an accident, your odds of survival are much higher if you are wearing your seatbelt. No matter how far you drive, or how slow you go, always wear your seatbelt. The NHTSA reports that nearly 10 percent of vehicle occupants do not wear their seatbelts.
Know Your Rights
While some minor motor vehicle accidents do not require the help of an attorney, this is almost never the case with large truck accidents. These cases can be extremely complicated and involve multiple parties. In the case of a defective tire, it will be more important than ever to properly prove fault and liability.
In Florida, accident victims have four years to file a lawsuit against an at-fault party. While this may seem like a long time, depending on the complexities of the case and the degree of your injuries, this deadline can approach before you know it. Beyond this, evidence can be lost as time passes. If you have been in an accident, it’s important to talk to an attorney right away. They can help you make sure you get the care you deserve and begin to work on your case. Your rights matter. In the event of an accident, you may qualify for financial compensation. If you or a loved one has been in a defective tire truck accident, don’t wait to contact an experienced attorney for more information about your legal rights.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, Florida 33765