You have likely seen them if you have traveled on the interstate: the shredded tires left behind by semi-trucks. These tires create obstacles for other drivers to navigate, and the loss of control of the vehicle from tire blowouts can lead to accidents.
Suppose you were injured or lost a loved one due to a truck accident caused by a defective tire and wish to seek compensation for your injury or loss. In that case, an experienced truck accident attorney can help you determine who is responsible for the defective tire that caused your accident.
The Dangers of Big Trucks and Tire Failures
Semi-trucks are massive vehicles weighing 20 to 30 times more than passenger cars they share the roadway with.
Even when driven on clear roads with plenty of visibility, meticulous maintenance, and the driver has spent a career operating semi-trucks, large trucks present these hazards:
- A distance of up to 40 percent more than passenger vehicles that the vehicle will travel between the instant the driver brakes and the car comes to a complete stop.
- A higher center of gravity makes the vehicle prone to overturning.
- Large blind spots can make it difficult for a driver to see other vehicles in their path when they attempt to change lanes or even get to the shoulder of the road to deal with a tire blowout.
- The greater ground clearance can result in smaller vehicles sliding beneath the truck during a crash.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tire blowouts are a factor in around 11,000 accidents a year, resulting in approximately 200 deaths and thousands of injuries. When a tire blows out, it often results in a loss of vehicle control.
In a truck, while there are more tires to help hold the vehicle in its proper lane position, if one blows out, a weight imbalance caused by cargo that shifted during the blowout can cause the truck to swerve. Because it is already challenging to maneuver, this loss of vehicle control can cause the truck to collide with other vehicles.
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What Causes a Truck’s Tires to Fail?
Tire failure on commercial trucks is often a combination of speed, tire damage, friction, and pressure.
Here are some of the factors involved in tire safety with a semi-truck, including:
- Heavy loads increase the pressure on the tires and make them more likely to fail.
- Excessive speed, which increases friction between the tires and the road and prematurely wears the tires.
- Excessive heat. Driving a commercial truck on Florida’s roadways in the summer can cause the pressure inside the tire to increase, resulting in a blowout. Additionally, heat on the tires’ rubber can cause the polymers used in the rubber to vibrate and contract, sometimes resulting in a blowout.
- Mismatched tires put on by the trucking company or the mechanic can cause the truck to wobble. This wobbling can result in uneven wearing of the tires.
- Old tires with little tread are subject to an increased risk of blowing out due to even a minor pothole or a nail.
Weather Conditions and Truck Tire Failure
Commercial truck accidents are often blamed on inclement weather; however, other factors usually contribute, such as driver negligence or vehicle maintenance issues such as defective tires.
For example, the increased stopping distance from the weight of the vehicle and the lack of sufficient tire tread to get traction can amplify danger on a wet road.
So, Who Is Responsible? (And Why Does It Matter?)
Your attorney will look at several sources to determine liability for the accident. Responsibility for the tire failure determines who (generally through their insurance) must compensate you for your injury. Some potential sources of responsibility for a truck accident include the following.
The Driver Who Is Required to Inspect the Truck Before Every Trip
Commercial truck drivers must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate the truck on commercial roadways. One of the provisions for maintaining this license is to perform a pre-trip inspection on the vehicle before every trip.
The inspection is comprehensive, and any issues that the driver discovers with the car that could compromise its safe operation should be repaired before the trip occurs. According to Smart Trucking, however, the pre-trip inspection is among the job’s most disliked and overlooked aspects.
After an accident involving a truck blowout, your attorney will want to see the pre-trip inspection records for the driver to ensure that the driver had performed this inspection as the law requires. Your lawyer will focus on the driver’s notes about the tires. During the examination, drivers should ensure that the tires are correctly inflated and have decent tread. Flat spots in the tire indicate the need to replace them.
The Trucking Company Who Is Responsible for Ensuring the Truck is Maintained
Compared to other vehicle types, commercial trucks travel many more miles, often at higher speeds and carrying up to 80,000 pounds in a loaded trailer. This causes the truck’s parts to wear more quickly, such as the engine, brakes, and tires.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires all trucking companies or truck owners to commit to a systematic schedule for inspecting, maintaining, and repairing their trucks.
They must keep records of information such as:
- Identifying information about the vehicle, including its identification number, make, model, and year.
- When the vehicle was last serviced, and the due date for its next inspection.
- The inspections and repairs made to the vehicle, including the type and date of the repairs and who performed them.
Your attorney will likely want to see the maintenance records for the truck to determine the last time the truck’s tires were replaced.
The Mechanic or Shop Responsible for Providing Maintenance Service
While tire failures are most commonly the responsibility of the commercial truck driver or the trucking company that owns the vehicle, some circumstances in which the mechanic or shop responsible for providing maintenance services can be found liable.
This generally occurs when the mechanic repairs a problem or provides maintenance services, failing to detect a significant and noticeable issue such as a defective tire.
The Manufacturer of the Tires
Some tires are defective and prone to failure regardless of the inspections and maintenance performed on the truck due to manufacturing defects. Manufacturers and those in the manufacturing chain (such as distributors and retailers) are responsible for ensuring that the parts they make for use on commercial trucks are safe when used per packaging instructions.
Three types of truck tire defects can result in a liable manufacturer, including:
- Design defects involve mistakes in the engineering of the tire that can cause it to be more prone to failure.
- Manufacturing defects, which occur due to errors in the manufacturing process, such as allowing the materials to get too hot during the process, resulting in an issue that compromises the safety of the tire.
- Packaging defects which involve the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use the tire properly, such as the proper inflation that the tires should be at when the vehicle is in operation.
The Government Agencies That Maintain the Road
Occasionally, the roadway conditions will set the stage for a tire defect case. If the agency knew or had reason to know that a defect existed that could cause injuries to roadway users, even in the absence of another party’s negligence, they could be at fault.
Can More than One Person or Entity Be Responsible for a Tire Failure?
Yes. Tire failures are not always caused by one source of negligence but by several sources. Part of your attorney’s job is to determine all sources of liability and their associated insurance policies to ensure that there is enough money available to compensate you for your expenses.
Most policies limit liability to the maximum the insurance company will pay for the accident. While commercial trucks must carry more liability insurance than other vehicles, multiple claimants injured in the same accident may split this money.
Some common examples of shared liability in a truck accident include:
- An accident in which the truck driver failed to perform a pre-trip inspection would have resulted in them noticing a defect in a tire and the failure of the trucking company that employs the driver to regularly maintain the truck.
- An accident in which the tire had a manufacturing defect resulting in a blowout, and a distracted motorist failed to realize that the vehicle was struggling and collided with it.
- An accident featuring both a manufacturing defect and a speeding truck driver.
- An accident in which a mechanic failed to check the tires during a regularly scheduled service and the driver also was unable to notice excessive tire wear during the pre-trip inspection.
- How a Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help You With Your Tire Defect Truck Accident Claim
Investigating the cause of a truck accident is no simple task. Local or state authorities and federal authorities typically investigate due to the heavy federal involvement in regulating the truck industry. The investigation can be extensive for a legal team as well. Your legal counsel may employ several people to investigate the evidence needed to support your claim.
Your attorney provides their own experience and understanding of the process to determine the evidence that can prove your claim and commits a team of legal minds to ensure that all necessary evidence is collected. Time is of the essence, as documentation needed to show liability can be in the hands of the trucker or the trucking company. It can be “misplaced” by those individuals and entities during the investigation.
In addition to experience, manpower, and resources, your attorney can provide other services to assist you in your claim. These services might include evaluating your claim, communicating with the at-fault party’s insurance provider, documenting your expenses to justify your claim’s value, and even collecting your negotiated settlement or a court award after your case ends.