Tire blowouts are a common cause of motor vehicle accidents. If you were involved in an accident caused by a blowout, you might be wondering how a tire blowout affects a driver's legal responsibilities. This article discusses when tire blowouts do and do not make someone liable for harm caused by the accident.
As discussed elsewhere on this site, when it comes to fault for a car accident, you and other drivers are required ("under a duty") to drive as a reasonable and normally prudent person would under the same circumstances. If you were driving normally and had an unexpected blowout, for example caused by unavoidable debris in the road, then you will not be found responsible for an accident that you couldn't avoid.
Keep in mind that it is possible to react unreasonably to a sudden flat, like slamming on the brakes and swerving hard in one direction. In that case, even though the flat tire was unavoidable, your unreasonable reaction could still make you liable for the accident to some extent.
There are additional duties beyond how you should drive. The two duties that affect a tire blowout case are the duty to inspect your car and the duty not to drive with defective equipment.
The law does not require that you have a mechanic's knowledge of your car. However, you are under a duty to inspect your car and spot any reasonably obvious problems.
Tires are not complicated, so if you were driving with thread-bare tires or a tire with some other noticeable defect, you are under a duty to notice the defect and not drive until it is fixed. If you are sued after a blowout, you cannot claim that you did not know about the defect, because the law says that you should have known.
Your case might also involve a close call, like a nail that was lodged in the tire for days or weeks before the tire finally blew. Your mechanic or other automotive specialist might also be found liable if your tire had a defect that a professional should have discovered the last time you brought your car in.
Ultimately, it is typically up to a jury to decide if you or a professional should have discovered the tire defect with reasonable inspections.
If you know or should know that your tire has a dangerous defect, you have a legal obligation not to drive your car until the defect is fixed. The duty to inspect and the duty not to drive with defective equipment have, under the law, the same effect: if a tire blowout caused the accident, and you should have had it fixed before you drove, you will be found liable.
Learn more about Car Accidents Caused by Vehicle Defects.
As mentioned earlier, a mechanic or other automotive specialist who should have discovered the tire defect could be held liable for an accident caused by a tire blowout. Similarly, someone who improperly installed the tire, including installing the wrong kind of tire, could be held liable. Additionally, a manufacturer and/or a retailer could be held liable for product liability if the blowout was caused by a manufacturing or design defect. Finally, a retailer could be held liable if the tire was somehow damaged at the store, for example if it was allowed to deteriorate in the showroom.
A tire blowout case can get complicated. There is a good chance you will need expert testimony about what caused the blowout, whether the blowout could have been prevented and/or whether the accident itself could have been prevented. If the case involves a manufacturing, design or installation defect, an expert will likely be needed to testify to those issues too. Your best asset in these kinds of cases is an experienced attorney who knows how to handle the complicated legal and procedural issues, not to mention settlement negotiations with insurance companies and deep-pocket manufacturers. This is especially true if the potential damages in your case are high.