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Defective tires are the cause of numerous personal injuries and wrongful deaths, whether the tires are defective when they roll off a manufacturer’s assembly line or whether they become defective because of a a manufacturer’s engineering decisions that cause early deterioration.

Tires that are defective at the time of manufacture are likely to blow out and cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle. This type of crash frequently results in a rollover.  Rollover kill and cause brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and amputations.  We have successfully represented many victims and their survivors in cases of defectively manufactured tires. For mechanics who work with the huge tires on trucks, buses, and heavy equipment, another kind of tire defect presents a different and equally deadly hazard. “Zipper ruptures” occur in the sidewall of a steel cord radial tire, and they usually take place in a tire service area, not on a highway. Zipper ruptures take their name from the hole in the tire that results from an explosion. Such a hole looks like a zipper because of the jagged edges of the broken steel belts.

Zipper ruptures happen during or just after inflation. When a zipper rupture occurs, it expels the air in the tire with enough force to throw a man across a room. These ruptures can also shatter the tire’s rim and turn it into deadly pieces of flying metal.

Zipper ruptures can be the result of sloppy manufacturing, but the more common cause is tires that are driven when they’re underinflated or flat. Driving a tire without the recommended air pressure weakens the steel cables in the sidewall. Then, when the tire is re-inflated, it can explode with the force of more than half a pound of dynamite. A tire and a wheel often weigh 175 pounds, and some are much bigger. When a tire of that size explodes, horrific injuries and wrongful death are likely, and even the smallest tires can explode and cause injuries.

Tire industry professionals and trade groups such as the Rubber Manufacturers Association have been aware of zipper ruptures since the early 1990s. They have established safety procedures such as completely deflating a tire before working on it and always inflating a tire within a safety cage.

Workers in the tire business receive training to prevent ruptures, and every tire shop must have proper equipment to protect workers if a rupture does occur.

Despite all those efforts, tire workers often neglect safety procedures and endanger themselves and everyone nearby. In a recent example of a zipper rupture, an explosion left a 2-foot hole in the wall of a tire and killed a young man.

In another tragic case, a man who knew the potential dangers of working with truck tires ignored the rules of safety and paid for his mistake with his life. The man was a highly experienced truck repair professional who did not take the proper safety precautions when he was inflating a tire. The tire exploded and threw him across the room.

The man’s widow brought suit against Goodyear, the manufacturer of the tire, arguing that it was defective, but a court in New York state ruled that the man’s own negligence was actually the cause of the fatal explosion. At the trial, experts stated that zipper ruptures occur in all brands of tires and that no radial sidewall has been designed that can prevent zipper ruptures in tires that have been used when they’re underinflated.

Business owners have a moral and a legal obligation to train their workers on the absolute necessity of keeping tires properly inflated. Those workers must also receive proper training in the safe methods of changing, mounting, and inflating tires, and owners must provide all necessary tools, such as tire safety cages and clip-on air chucks to assure safety.

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Richard Alexander