Tire-related accidents caused 738 deaths on U.S. roads in 2017, the last year for which statistics are available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), out of the total 34,247 fatalities and nearly 1.9 million injuries. Although tire-related accidents are a small percentage of the total, any vehicle accident constitutes a tragedy for victims and their loved ones.
Accidents caused by tire blowouts are some of the most deadly on the road, because of the risk of collision and the possibility that the blowout will cause the car or other vehicles to spin into other lanes of traffic or off the road.
What Happens If My Tires Blow Out?
A blown-out tire is exactly what the term sounds like: a piece of the tire essentially explodes, leaving a hole in the tire. As a result, the tire loses pressure and rapidly deflates.
The amount of air pressure in a tire is a crucial element in the proper operation of your car. A tire with a hole in it can make driving a vehicle difficult and, frankly, dangerous. A vehicle with a blown tire almost always starts to slow down. The steering wheel may shake or become harder to steer, depending on the speed at which the car was traveling when the tire blew.
If you experience a tire blowout, you should let the vehicle decelerate naturally while gradually steering it to a safe place, out of traffic, and off the road. It is human nature to react when a car slows or becomes difficult to drive, however, some drivers may inadvertently hit the brakes or attempt to turn the vehicle off the road quickly to get out of traffic or simply to come to a safe place where the driver can get out and look at the damage. Both can potentially cause the vehicle to spin.
If a vehicle spins, of course, the occupants may sustain injuries by being bounced around, knocked against other elements of the car, or spinning into traffic or against an obstacle, such as a guard rail. Spinning can also cause a vehicle to cross lanes, potentially hitting other cars in that lane, or cause a vehicle to spin off the road entirely. The car may strike pedestrians or damage personal property.
A blown tire may also make a noise. If the noise is audible to you as well as other drivers or pedestrians, they may panic and drive improperly, causing other accidents.
Once the tire has exploded, it may throw tread or other material from the tire into the roadway. The debris may hit other vehicles, remain on the road as obstacles causing further accidents, or hit pedestrians.
Finally, a blown tire can affect your tire’s rim. A properly inflated tire protects the rim. However, driving on a blown tire for too long will start to affect the shape of the rim, eventually requiring its replacement. This, too, can make the car unable to drive at normal traffic speeds and may affect the driver’s steering ability. No driver should operate on a blown tire for long. It’s best to replace the blown tire with a spare tire as soon as possible until you can get the vehicle in for a full repair. You should only use the spare tire as long as is necessary, as many spares are not fully the same size or as sturdy as regular tires.
What Causes Blown-Out Tires?
Multiple factors can cause or contribute to blown-out tires. Among the causes are:
- Inadequate maintenance. It’s important to rotate your tires frequently and replace them when necessary. Rotation ensures even wear on each part of the tire; without periodic rotation, tires will become more worn in specific areas. If they aren’t replaced when necessary, they also become worn. You should also inspect your tire treads regularly, to ensure that they meet thickness requirements. Excessively worn tires or thin treads can make a blowout more likely, especially if your car runs over a sharp object, such as a nail, or hits a pothole.
- Underinflation. All tires have an ideal air pressure. Federal law has required a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) on all cars, SUVs, and pick-ups since 2007, but these cars only issue an alarm if the system senses severe underinflation. As a result, a tire can blow without the issuance of an alert. Underinflation causes tires to overheat, which often leads to a blowout.
- Overinflation. Overinflation can cause your tires to wear unevenly and faster than they would normally. Wear can lead to a blowout.
- Installing the wrong type/size of tire. Tires are not one size fits all products. If drivers need to replace the tires that the manufacturer placed on the car, they need to make sure that the new tires fit the vehicle. Most owner’s manuals specify the tire size needed.
- Heavy loads. Vehicles are manufactured with a specific load-bearing capacity in mind. If that’s significantly exceeded, it places too much pressure on the tires, which can result in a blowout. Vehicle information usually includes the Gross Vehicular Weight Rating, which provides the acceptable loads that a vehicle can carry.
- Slow leaks. Running over a sharp object, such as a screw or nail, can puncture a tire. These punctures don’t necessarily cause a tire to blow immediately. Tires are not as fragile as balloons. However, a slow leak will cause a tire to deflate, and the combination of a small puncture and deflation will eventually cause a blowout.
- Defective tires. Unfortunately, sometimes tires on the market are defective, and these defects may increase the risk of blowouts. Safety recalls of tires are generally accomplished via communications with the owners of either the vehicle that had the defective tire installed originally or owners of tires bought to replace originally installed ones. Drivers are usually told what the issue is and told what to do to replace the tires. Not all drivers may receive or actually listen to these communications, however. You can check to see if your call has been the subject of a recall by looking up a car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) on the NHTSA website. VINs are usually carried on the dashboard on the driver’s side.
- Hot weather. Excessive heat is no friend to tires. The majority of tire blowouts happen in hot weather, from mid-May to early October. Hot roadways can make tires overheat and blow, especially if they are older or stressed by other factors, such as heavy vehicle loads. People usually drive for longer during warmer months, as well.
- Road maintenance or conditions. Roads with potholes or other hazards can cause a tire to blow. At times, the impact of hitting a pothole or hazard can compress the internal elements of the tire and damage them. A severe impact can slice or damage the fabric and rubber that makeup tires, causing them to blow.
What Injuries Can A Blown-Out Tire Accident Cause?
A tire blow out can cause vehicle accidents of many different types, ranging from minor ones—perhaps a tailgating car bumps your rear fender as you attempt to drive your car off the road—to a catastrophic one, in which a huge 18-wheeler spins across multiple lanes of traffic. The latter accident can lead to vehicle pile-ups and multiple injuries and fatalities, including catastrophic injuries—such as quadriplegia and crush injuries.
As a result, a wide range of injuries is possible, including:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Spinal cord injury (SCI)
- Severe lacerations
- Crush injuries, such as nerve damage
- Head injuries
- Loss of limb
- Damage to soft tissue
Who Is Responsible For Injuries In A Tire Blowout Accident?
All vehicle drivers are responsible for safely operating their vehicles and driving according to traffic laws. Drivers are also responsible for the safe maintenance of their vehicles, including regular tune-ups and repairs. Drivers owe other drivers and pedestrians a duty of care to drive safely. Drivers who violate principles of safe operation or laws have failed in their duty of care, and a court may hold them responsible if such violations caused an accident. Breaching a duty of care constitutes negligence, and courts can hold negligent parties liable for injuries that their negligence causes.
However, driver error is not the only possible cause of a blowout accident, of course. If defective road conditions, such as deep potholes, caused a tire blowout, a court may hold the authority responsible for maintaining the road responsible for the accident. If a vehicle like a commercial truck was overloaded, and the tire blowout resulted from the overload, the company responsible for loading the truck could be responsible. If a driver took a vehicle in for regular maintenance, the shop performing the work may bear responsibility for failing to notice problems in tire pressure, for not inflating the tires to the right pressure, or for other oversights that led to the tire blowout.
Several parties may bear fault in an accident. A severe rear-end accident, for example, may have been partially caused by a tire blowout and partially caused by the driver in back violating the speed limit. Pennsylvania law has a comparative negligence rule, under which both parties can share liability, but a court will reduce any damage award by the injured party’s percentage of negligence. In other words, if a court determines that an injured party was 25 percent responsible for the accident, the court would reduce the damages award by 25 percent. If a court determines that a victim was 51 percent or more responsible, he or she cannot recover any damages.
In a severe accident, it may be necessary to investigate the causes to fully know and understand what caused an accident, and that’s the first step toward knowing who is responsible. An experienced personal injury lawyer will know how to determine which parties to go after for compensation.
Pennsylvania Law And Injuries In An Accident
If another party caused an accident in which you or a loved one sustained an injury, can you bring a suit against them? The law in Pennsylvania is somewhat complex.
Injuries from an accident are covered under no-fault insurance. “No-fault” means that you bring a claim under your own personal injury protection (PIP) insurance to seek compensation for injuries (bills from doctor’s and other healthcare providers, for example). Pennsylvania requires mandatory medical coverage for $5,000. Your own PIP insurance will also compensate you for lost wages due to the accident.
However, Pennsylvania drivers do have the option to opt-out of no-fault. Drivers choose either a limited tort option, under which you could bring a claim against another party for economic damages but not for pain or suffering. If you choose the full-tort option, you have unlimited rights to bring a claim.
There are two main types of damages that victims of vehicle accidents can seek under Pennsylvania law, subject to the no-fault insurance rules above. The first, economic or “special” damages, are for financial costs a victim has suffered as a result of the accident. Any medical expenses, lost wages while the injured person recovered or underwent treatment, property damage, and potential lost future income if the accident has rendered the victim unable to work for the long term (or permanently) are special damages.
The second category, non-economic or “general” damages, are intended to compensate victims for suffering and any decline in their quality of life related to the accident. Compensation for pain and suffering falls under this category, as does loss of consortium, loss of companionship, and loss of life enjoyment.
Even if you believe that you’re adequately covered by PIP coverage under the no-fault rules, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney if you or a loved one was severely injured. Why? Because attorneys are skilled at negotiating with insurance companies. Insurance companies who offer a quick settlement are often trying to settle for a lower amount than the claim is worth. They try to entice victims to sign away their right to sue for damages. An attorney can investigate your accident and use all the information to get you compensation for the full cost of your injuries.
At times, insurance companies may deny a claim for technical or other reasons. An attorney can be your advocate in appealing a denial and get you the compensation that you deserve. Attorneys are experienced in negotiating with insurance companies and will help you receive a fair and just settlement.