Death By Tires: Catastrophic Personal Injuries
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Death By Tires: Catastrophic Personal Injuries

Wednesday, January 20, 2010By Richard Alexander

Tire failures cause wrongful deaths and catastrophic personal injuries. Tires are a car’s most important safety feature because they’re in use whenever the car is moving. If a tire blows out or loses air pressure, a driver can immediately lose control of the car, causing it to swerve out of control and even to roll over.  

Because tires carry heavy loads, especially in emergency turning, any manufacturing defect or lack of routine maintenance, including something as simple as keeping enough air in the tires, puts drivers and passengers in needless danger.

Tires are more than simple pieces of molded rubber.  Modern tires are complex, highly engineered products. They should provide passengers with a comfortable and safe ride, but tire failures are common.

Deadly tire accidents don’t usually draw much media attention, but when tires fail on national television, as they do in a NASCAR race, millions of people see the damage that can happen in an instant.

Several very highly publicized cases of tire failure involved Ford Explorers and Firestone Wilderness tires. In 2000, Firestone and Ford announced the recall of 14.4 million tires, of which 6.5 million were still on the road. By then, the Explorer had a long history of deadly rollovers linked to the tires. Amazingly, Ford and Firestone still have not corrected the problem. Tires on the Explorer are still failing, and Explorers are still rolling on flat level roads, which should never happen.

The most likely cause of tire failure is a manufacturing defect or a design flaw. Building a safe tire is a process that requires skilled management and paying for top level quality control. Management must commit itself to providing every possible tool for making tires safe.

One common and often deadly defect is tread belt separation. When this occurs, the rubber breaks away from the steel belts, and the tire disintegrates. Drivers lose control, and horrible crashes happen.

Unfortunately, for consumers, poor management reduces the level of tire safety and tire-handling. Within the tire industry, labor and management have a long history of strained relations, largely because making tires is one of the filthiest jobs on the planet, using large amounts of low grade gasoline, lacaed with cancer-causing benzene, to laminate tire sections, separate sticking tires and clean rubber residue.

More recently, an investigation into the tires that failed on Ford Explorers in the 1990s found that workers were threatening to go on strike because of vile working conditions.  Currently my firm represents families of deceased Uniroyal tire workers at the now defunct Eau Claire, Wisconsin plant where there is a stunning cluster of lethal blood cancers that commonly follow benzene exposure.  In this yers of daily benzene exposure did exactly what benzene is known to do.

Two common management practices increase the likelihood of defective tires. Under the concept of piece work, tire builders earn more if they produce more, but the danger with piece work is that, as you would expect, workers focus on speed instead of quality because of low piecework wages.

Another potentially dangerous management practice has been the 12-hour days that tire builders have often worked. Such long days make fatigue and mistakes more likely, and recent contracts have wisely included a switch to 8-hour days.

And when management decides to save a few cents per tire, injuries are a certainty and deaths are likely. A Chinese manufacturer decided not to include a safety feature called a gum strip in its tires, and two people died as a result of a crash. The cost of the gum strip would have been 25 or 30 cents per tire.

Another deadly product from China was a large batch of valve stems manufactured without an additive that can protect the rubber from deteriorating. One defective valve caused a fatal rollover accident and led to a massive recall.

The age of a tire also plays a major role in its safety, and an investigation found that some stores were selling tires that were already 6 or 7 years old. Tires degrade and dry out over time, and all tires carry a mark identifying their month of manufacture, but the tire industry has never made a strong effort to inform the driving public of the dangers of old tires or to teach drivers to identify the age of a tire.  When you check your own tires, age is more important than tread depth.  That is what all the tire experts say.

If you are involved in a tire failure, before you contact me to learn if legal action can compensate you for the manufacturer’s misconduct, please save the tire and take friends with you to the scene to collect alla the pieces.  After your health and medical care, preserving the evidence is the top priority.

Onward,

Richard Alexander

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