Tire and tread off claims

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Blown tires and lost treads can cause claims against your company. Fault is not automatic. You can defend against the claims.

The berms of interstates are haunted by the ghosts of tire treads past. The useful life runs out and the tread comes off. Amid the debris are the shards of blown tires.

In congested areas, lost treads and blown tires can contact nearby vehicles, giving rise to claims for property damage or even personal injury. As you may have read somewhere, fault is not automatic.

Legal basis
Liability requires negligence. Did the lost tread or blown tire result from negligence–the failure of someone to reasonably do something they should have done.

The answer is almost always no. Companies’ and drivers’ do whatever they reasonably can to avoid the consequences of these occurrences. In addition to preventing accidents involving the public and the drivers, prevention precludes equipment damage, roadside expenses, and downtime in “clock-is-always-running” world of trucking.

You are generally only liable for a tread off or blow out if the other person can prove negligence. However, if it is claimed to be a “wheel off”, most states say you are presumed to be negligence.

The theory that presumes negligence if the wheel itself comes off is called res ipsa loquitur. That is Latin for “somebody must have done something or the wheel wouldn’t have come off.” You can still defend yourself, but you literally pushing that wheel uphill in your fight.

Your defense of claims
Your defense is based upon having reasonable practices to avoid tread offs and blow outs and documenting what happened if it occurred. Make sure there is no doubt that this was not a “wheel off”.

Reasonable practices start with preventive maintenance including period inspections of the tires. Have a PM program and document that you follow it. Record each inspection.

This is reinforced by daily inspections by drivers. Make sure your drivers do the pre-trip, including tires, and document their reporting of any problems.

These efforts may not prevent the unforeseeable tread loss or blow out but can avoid those that are predictable upon inspection. Additionally, these efforts can protect your driver and your company for liability from claims. Document them so that you have the proof when the claim arises.

If there is tread loss or blow out, document what occurred. Have your roadside assistance note it on the repair document. Have them identify who responded in case you need them as a witness.

Have your driver photograph the damaged tire. This is as crucial for your defense of these claims as much as it is for a major injury accident.

Key— document that it was not a “wheel off” in both records and photographs. Train your maintenance to document the nature of the event—tread off or blow out.

Have your drivers take pictures of the remaining tire and, more importantly, wheel still attached and in place. In a world in which people can’t eat without taking a picture of their food with their phone, you driver can snap a quick picture of the treadless tire or remains of the blowout on the rim. Train your maintenance to remind the driver to do so.

Accidents happen despite the best of precautions. Nowhere is that truer than tread offs and blow outs. Protect yourself from claims seeking to take advantage of this unfortunate, unavoidable event.

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Doug Marcello, a shareholder with the law firm of Saxton & Stump and chief legal officer of Bluewire, is a trucking defense attorney with a CDL. He had represented trucking clients across the country, having been specially admitted for cases in 35 states. Doug received the 2018 Leadership Award of the ATA Safety Council.

He has served on the advisory board of the American Trucking Research Institute. Doug is a member of numerous trucking organizations, including a board member of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association and member of the American Trucking Associations Safety Council as well as trucking law organizations including TIDA and Transportation Lawyers. He has written numerous articles concerning trucking safety and defense which can be found at www.cdl-law.com. You can also find his interviews and presentation on his YouTube channel and podcast, “TransportCenter”, on iTunes.

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