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Malfunctions May Lead To Tragic Loose Wheel Accidents

A tire separating from an oncoming vehicle is a potentially lethal projectile that requires immediate evasive action on the part of anyone in its path. Inevitably, a motorist is shocked to see a loose wheel careening at their vehicle.

When tire separations happen on freeways, the combined speed of the approaching wheel and a vehicle headed in the other direction may exceed 100 mph. There is very little time to react. Sometimes drivers succeed in avoiding runaway wheels, and other times they do not.

Tire Strikes Vehicle on Interstate

On June 19, a tire separated from a pickup truck on interstate 465 in Indianapolis, Indiana. A local TV station reported that the wheel bounded over the median and into oncoming traffic where it struck the windshield and roof on the driver’s side of an SUV. Emergency personnel transported the 43-year-old female driver to a local hospital where she died. The front seat passenger escaped with minor injuries, and three back seat passengers were not hurt.

Some Events Go Unreported

One report published by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimated that heavy trucks alone are responsible for approximately 750 to 1,000 accidents every year. At the time, the NTSB also noted that the numbers might be conservative because wheel separations that do not lead to injury or property damage may go unreported.

In November 2015, WLS News in Chicago suggested that underreporting may indeed be a significant problem. Mark Bailey, an engineer and forensics expert, was quoted in the article as estimating that wheel separations occur as many as 50,000 times per year in North America. The report noted a September 29, 2014, loose wheel accident on Interstate 90 near Madison, Wisconsin, that took the life of a suburban Chicago man. A little more than two months earlier, on July 14, 2014, a 64-year-old Indiana woman died on the Bishop Ford Expressway in the Chicago area when a tire came off an SUV.

Runaway Wheel Strikes Brainerd Pedestrian

Last year, in Brainerd, Minnesota, two rear wheels separated from a semi as it turned a corner. One smashed into an unoccupied vehicle while the other rolled down a hill until it reportedly struck a pedestrian in the back and the head. The impact left the pedestrian unconscious. The Minnesota State Patrol reported that the injured individual required transport to an area hospital following the December 6, 2016, accident. Troopers cited the trucker, and they warned commercial drivers in general about unsafe equipment.

Semis are often referred to as “18-wheelers” because a standard semi cab and trailer travels on that many wheels. As a result, truckers may lose a wheel without even knowing it. Under and over-torqued wheels may be more likely to come off a vehicle. Under-torqued nuts may loosen until the wheel wobbles and the bolts break. Over-torqued nuts may actually stretch bolts to the point of failure.

Investigators working on behalf of the victim of a tire separation will try to determine the underlying cause of the crash. Sometimes, improper maintenance is to blame. In other cases, a flawed part is the culprit. Whatever the exact cause, negligent conduct often lies at the heart of tragic wheel separation accidents.

When victims seek compensation in civil court, it is important to identify all possible defendants who may be responsible for the accident, in whole or in part. It is often possible to recover monetary damages from responsible parties for certain medical expenses, pain, suffering and lost wages. Many cases are settled without the need for a trial.

If you or a loved one is a victim of a traffic accident, we make it possible for you to speak with a personal injury attorney free of charge and without obligation. We fight hard to protect the rights of our clients. To learn more, or to arrange for a complimentary consultation, please contact us.