Catastrophic injury as a result of wheels falling off cars and trucks is a far more frequent occurrence than most people realize. A loose wheel and tire can weigh over one hundred pounds and have an impact speed of 100 MPH or more. As a result, death or serious personal injury can be caused to anyone in the path of the flying tire.
Equally at risk are the occupants of a vehicle that suddenly and without any warning becomes out of control. When a tire unexpectedly comes off of a vehicle in motion, the driver often loses control of the vehicle, and as a result, the vehicle may crash into other vehicles or objects on the roadway, or uncontrollably leave the roadway, where dangerous terrain and roadside hazards can cause the vehicle to overturn, resulting in devastating injury to its occupants.
Over 20 years ago the National Transportation Safety Board estimated the incidence of wheel separations to be about 750 to 1050 per year on trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or more but noted the figure may be low since wheel separations not causing damage or injury may go unreported. The study did not consider passenger vehicles which are far more numerous and not subject to frequent inspections as are commercial vehicles.
This YouTube video demonstrates the fearsome destructive power of a loose wheel.
Causes of Wheel Separations
By far the most common explanation for why someone is hurt as a result a wheel separation is “Attachment Error”. There are two types of Attachment Error that can result in catastrophic wheel separations if one or more of these simple steps are not followed:
- Attachment Error – Nuts Not Tightened.
First, the nuts must be tightened to the proper and safe amount of torque or force when the wheel is attached. If under-torqued, over time the nuts will spin off the stud causing the wheel to separate because the nuts were inadequately tightened. If over-torqued, the studs themselves can become damaged and as a result, can break off, taking the wheel and tire with them. Improper torque of the lug nuts is by far the most common cause of wheel separation.
Surprisingly, when the lug nuts are not properly fastened, the wheel doesn’t typically detach quickly. Usually it takes time, as much as 3,000 miles after a wheel change, depending on how loose the nuts were attached to the studs. So, this is not something a customer would experience shortly after a tire service.
- Attachment Error – Wheel & Hub Not Properly Cleaned of Debris.
Second, detachment can occur if debris is left between the mating surfaces of the wheel hub and brake rotor before the wheel is reattached. If debris is left on these meeting surfaces, even if the proper torque is applied to the lug nuts, over time the debris disintegrates and causes a loss of the necessary force that holds the wheel to the brake rotor. As a result, just like when the lug nuts are not properly tightened, the nuts on the studs become loose over time, which allows the nuts to spin off or causes the studs to fracture. Again, this is a slow process, and the wheel typically doesn’t separate until after being driven thousands of miles, as well.
Millions of vehicles routinely have their tires changed, balanced, rotated, or serviced at thousands of service stations and tire stores throughout the country. All of these service providers know the importance of attaching the wheel to the customer’s vehicle properly and the catastrophic consequences that can occur if not done properly. Unfortunately, due to overworked and under trained personnel, or carelessness on the part of these companies’ staff, these simple steps are at times overlooked or ignored.
What to do if you are Injured Due to a Wheel Separation
It is important that an inspection of the vehicle and its separated wheel be performed as soon as possible after the accident. When possible, the vehicle and its parts should be preserved so that they can be inspected before the vehicle is repaired or sold off for scraps. The vehicle and its parts will need to be closely inspected, photographed, and tested by experts in the fields of engineering, metallurgy, and/or accident reconstruction. These experts can perform an extensive investigation of the vehicle, the failed components, and the accident scene in an effort to determine the reason for the wheel separation. Because these inspections are critical to our ability to determine the cause of the wheel separation and who is responsible, it is important that we are contacted shortly after the accident so that we can begin the inspection process.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a wheel separation accident, please contact The Yost Legal Group at 1-800-YOST-LAW (1-800-967-8529) today for a free initial case evaluation. The best time to contact The Yost Legal Group is shortly after the accident occurred. This will enable our team of lawyers and staff the ability to investigate your case in a timely manner and preserve evidence that may be important to the success of your claim.
Your free initial consultation can be over the phone or in person with a licensed personal injury lawyer. We accept your case on a contingency basis, which means you do not pay a fee or expense unless you recover.