Tire defect cases are a special subgroup of automotive products liability. Tire defect cases provide an independent product liability cause of action against the tire manufacturer. But, if they are original equipment on a vehicle, they may also present a claim against the vehicle manufacturer.
Tire Litigation in the News
The Ford/Firestone litigation of a few years back brought the issue of tire defects into the forefront of public knowledge. Until then, it was not common knowledge that a tire could just fail in the normal course of use. The Ford/Firestone litigation was based on claims of design defects in the Firestone tires. The majority of tire cases before and after the Ford/Firestone litigation are based on claims of manufacturing and design defects.
What is a Tire Defect?
A tire defect, oftentimes referred to as a tire delamination or tire detread, case usually involves the bottom layer of steel belts separating from the second layer of steel belts and outside tread. A large strip of tread, and sometimes accompanying smaller pieces, separating from the tire while in use, often identifies tire delaminations. A delamination will significantly decrease a person’s ability to control the vehicle and will sometimes result in an accident. It is common for people to refer to these tire events as “blowouts.” A blowout is a sudden loss in air pressure. A tire delamination does not necessarily entail the loss of air pressure. Sometimes the tire will lose the tread but retain its air pressure through the entire accident sequence.
Evaluating the Tire Case
There are a few things an attorney should be keenly aware of when investigating a potential tire case. First, look at the tire and its condition. Are there large pieces of tread missing? Does the tire have air pressure or will it still hold air? How old is the tire (determined by the DOT number)? Those are just a few questions that should be asked. The tire and all tread pieces should be quickly secured and stored in a climate controlled area. Next, talk to occupants of the vehicle, if possible. A classic scenario in a tire delamination is testimony from passengers in the vehicle that a loud banging or slapping noise in the wheel-well of the tire that failed occurred immediately before losing control of the vehicle. This indicates that the tread was coming off and hitting the wheel well as the tire rotated. Also, ask the occupants about how the car felt and acted during and after the tire event. Finally, find any witnesses to the accident who can testify to what they saw.
Additional Thoughts on Tire Cases
In addition to the products claim against the tire manufacturer, the prudent practitioner should also investigate the possibility of a negligence claim against the entities that maintained or installed the tire. The negligence claim can stem from an improper tire size, rim size or tire/rim combination. It can also be based on an entity’s failure to inform a customer of signs of impending failure of a tire. Tire cases are uniquely technical in terms of the chemistry and other science involved. These are expert intensive cases. Only an expert will be able to make a proper determination on why, and if, the tire failed.