According to media reports, investigators believe tire failure may have caused a Ford F-150 to overturn, ejecting both the driver and a passenger. The truck’s passenger died at the scene of the wreck, according to police. The driver was flown to Atlanta Medical Center with serious injuries.
We have seen tire problems contribute to catastrophic crashes many times over the years, with causes that sometimes lead to liability of a tire manufacturer or maintenance facility.
– Manufacturing defects. Tire failure may result from manufacturing defects, such as when inadequate baking of tires results in layers coming apart, or “delaminating.” We encountered that in a crash of a college cheerleader van several years ago. The tire manufacturer eventually paid several million dollars.
– Tire aging As tires age, particularly when a great deal of heat is present, the materials become brittle and create new hazards of catastrophic tire failure. Whether that results in potential liability for the tire seller is a very fact intensive issue.
– Improper tire mounting. If a tire store or maintenance facility improperly mounts tires, that may damage the rim and tire bead, resulting in catastrophic tire failure and potential liability for the installer’s company.
– Underinflation / overinflation / tire wear. If vehicle owner ignores overinflation, underinflation or excessive tire wear over a period of time, he may not be able to blame anyone but himself for resulting tire failure. However, an innocent passenger or a person injured in another vehicle may have a claim against the vehicle owner. We see this in truck accident litigation where tractor trailers, dump trucks, etc., have poorly maintained tire. (The accompanying photo is of a tire on a dump truck in a case we handled in Macon.)
There are, of course, many other factors that may contribute to tire failure. When tire failure is suspected as a cause of a catastrophic accident, it is important to secure the evidence immediately and find an appropriate tire expert to inspect it and do appropriate testing.
Ken Shigley is past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), double board certified in Civil Trial Advocacy and Civil Pretrial Advocacy by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, and lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice. His Atlanta-based civil trial practice is focused on representation of plaintiffs in cases of castastrophic personal injury and wrongful death