Who Can Be Responsible for a Truck Accident Caused by a Defective Tire?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), large truck accidents caused 137 occupant fatalities in Texas in 2018. Nearly 600 occupants of other types of trucks, such as pickups and utility trucks, died in collisions as well. Overall, 37 percent of Texas vehicle accident fatalities involved some type of truck.
While a variety of factors may contribute to truck accidents, the role that defective tires play should not be overlooked. Defective tires can cause a tire to rupture or even cause the tires to detach from the vehicle. In either situation, the truck can become nearly impossible for the driver to control. As a result, the truck may cross lanes, run off the road, skid, hydroplane, or rollover. Each of these incidents can result in a major accident causing serious injury and extensive damage.
In the case of a tire blow-out, debris can be spread across several lanes of traffic. Due to the sheer size of commercial truck tires, the debris can also be very large. Debris from a tire blow-out may create driver distractions and roadway hazards that lead to dangerous accidents.
If a defective tire malfunctions and causes an accident, who is responsible? Several parties could potentially share responsibility for an accident caused by a defective tire. Potentially liable parties include the tire’s manufacturer, the person who purchased the tires, or a person or company designated to fix the defect. To understand why, let’s look at the process for recalling defective tires.
Defective Tires: The Recall Process
What causes a tire to be defective? Sometimes, manufacturers fail to meet federal motor vehicle safety standards. They may even intentionally disregard standards to increase profits. However, tires may also be defective for several other reasons. Of course, manufacturers may have designed and made tires they believed to be safe. But, changes in design, materials, or other elements may cause the design to be prone to separate or rupture.
The NHTSA is in charge of vehicle safety standards for all commercial vehicles operating in the United States. The administration issues and periodically amends safety standards for trucks. Truck manufacturers and trucking companies should always conform to these standards.
Oftentimes, when tires are discovered to be defective, the NHTSA system relies only on complaints they receive when addressing the issues. Users of tires can file complaints with the NHTSA regarding defective tires. After complaints are received, the NHTSA conducts an investigation.
If the NHTSA finds that a tire doesn’t meet safety standards or is a safety risk, they may conduct a recall of the defective tire. When tires have been proven to be defective, tire manufacturers often voluntarily conduct a recall.
After a recall is initiated, consumers are informed by mail that the tires they have purchased are defective. When appropriate, consumers may be advised on how to remedy the issues. Common fixes include the manufacturer’s repair of the tires, tire replacement, or options for refunds and repurchase.
Why Are Defective Tires on the Road?
In theory, defective tires should never make it into consumers’ hands. Manufacturers should meet safety standards, the tires should be tested, and if they don’t meet the standards, they should be recalled.
In reality, defective tires make their way onto trucks and on the roadways for many reasons.
- First, the manufacturer may have made unsafe tires due to a change in design, tooling, materials, or other factors. They may be unaware of any safety issue until complaints begin. However, for consumers to complain, they must typically encounter an issue. Commonly, complaints are only received after a consumer experiences a blow-out or accident caused by the defective tire.
- Second, the manufacturer should inform tire purchasers about dangers. The letter will contain a way to remedy the defect, such as a free replacement with safe tires. But the letters take time to be completed, mailed, and received. Until they are received and the issues are fixed, the tires are likely still in use.
- Third, the repair/replacement of the defective tires is actually the responsibility of the purchaser. If they neglect to take the recommended action, the tires will remain defective. Most of the time, of course, they will follow the recommended course of action. Until they do, though, defective tires will continue to create dangers on the roadways.
In some cases, defective tires may not be fixed, despite a recall. The purchaser may receive the recall letter but fail to take the recommended action. Or, they may have changed addresses and fail to receive the letter at all. However, the NHTSA maintains a website where tires can be checked for any outstanding recall by brand name and other information. Nonetheless, it is also possible for a tire to be fixed improperly.
So, Who Is Responsible for the Accident?
If you or a loved one were injured in a truck accident caused by defective tires, determining the responsible parties can be difficult. You will likely need to know why defective tires were on the truck, even though they had been recalled.
Some indications of which party may be liable are listed below.
- If the tires didn’t meet federal safety standards, the manufacturer may be responsible.
- If the NHTSA was receiving complaints about the tires, the manufacturer may be responsible.
- If a recall was under way, the manufacturer may be responsible.
- If recall letters were issued and received, the purchaser of the tires may be responsible for acknowledging the recall and fixing the tires. The purchaser of the tires could be a truck’s owner or a fleet of multiple trucks.
- If the tires’ purchaser had the tires fixed or replaced, and the tires were either fixed improperly or remained defective, the mechanic who fixed them may be responsible.
Identifying responsible parties can be particularly complex when a commercial truck is involved in the accident. For example, an individual truck owner or a company may be the purchaser of the product. The party responsible for responding to a recall can be a person, a company that purchased the tires, or a separate subcontractor.
The cause and assignment of liability in truck accidents can be complicated. The accident often needs to be investigated to find out who the responsible party is.
If a defective truck tire contributes to an accident, one of the above parties is likely negligent. Negligent parties can be liable for any accident-related injuries.
For more information, contact an experienced truck accident lawyer to schedule a free consultation today.