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If a tire malfunctions, it may be possible to hold the manufacturer liable for the damages.

That is what a mother of a young daughter did in a lawsuit that recently went to trial in Philadelphia. After suffering serious injuries in a car accident involving a malfunctioning truck tire tread, the mother sued the tire manufacturer, the employer of the truck driver, and other parties. Some of the defendants settled confidentially, and a jury awarded $10.6 million to the plaintiffs, as well as $1.1 million in delay damages.

Plaintiffs Blame Tire Manufacturer for Highway Accident

The plaintiff and her 5-month-old daughter were riding in her mother’s minivan on a New Jersey interstate highway in July 2015, when they came upon a 14-foot piece of truck tire tread that had been left in the middle of the road. The tread came from a concrete mixing truck that had previously experienced tire tread failure. According to the complaint, it had been there for nearly 30 minutes by that time.

The minivan driver swerved to avoid the tread, and in the process, struck a guardrail. The minivan rolled over onto its passenger side. The plaintiff and her daughter were partially ejected from the vehicle and suffered from serious injuries. The plaintiff suffered a severed left arm, and her daughter had to have her leg partially amputated.

The plaintiffs sued Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations—the manufacturer of the tire—alleging defective design. They argued that the tire was not as strong as it should have been due to internal air pockets, and that these pockets led the tread to separate.

Among the defendants was also McCarthy Tire Service Co., which had retreaded the tire about three years prior to the accident. The plaintiffs claimed the company failed to identify problems in the tire at the time of retreading. They also cited previous problems with the company’s retread process as noted in an audit on that process.

The plaintiffs also sued Silvi Concrete Products, the company the driver was working for at the time. They alleged that the company failed to implement an adequate tire maintenance program, and that they should be held liable for the driver’s failure to call emergency personnel after the tread failure.

Bridgestone maintained that there was nothing wrong with their tire, and that the concrete company had failed to properly maintain the tires on the truck. Yet, Bridgestone and McCarthy settled with the plaintiffs confidentially before the trial, leaving Silvi as the remaining defendant. The jury determined that Silvi Concrete was liable for 85 percent of the accident, and that the minivan driver was responsible for the other 15 percent.

Building an Effective Defective Tire Case

In a case like this, plaintiffs typically need key pieces of evidence to achieve a successful outcome. First, it is necessary to prove that the tire was defective, and that the defect caused or contributed to the crash. Common failures include partial or complete tread separation, bead failure, adhesion failure, and blowout.

Evidence showing the failure is also critical, so a plaintiff should always preserve the defective tire and the vehicle on which it was mounted, as well as any remains of the tire, which can be investigated by experts. Police reports may indicate the tire problem, and photographs will support the claim. Determining the make and model of the tire allows for research on possible recalls.

For such claims, potentially liable parties may include the tire manufacturer, repair shops, auto dealers, service centers, sellers, drivers and their employers.

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