Lawsuits for Accidents Caused by Tire Defects

When a defective tire causes an accident, the injury victims may have a personal injury claim against the manufacturer, distributor, or tire seller. The victim does not have to show who was responsible for the defect, only that the tire was defective and caused the accident. The injury victims and their families can file a defective tire lawsuit for damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about lawsuits for accidents caused by defective tires:

If you have further questions about tire defect accidents after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

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When a defective tire causes an accident in California, the injury victims may have a personal injury claim against the manufacturer, distributor, or tire seller.

1. Can I file a lawsuit if I was injured in a crash caused by a defective tire?

Anyone injured in a vehicle crash caused by a defective tire may be able to file a lawsuit against the tire seller or manufacturer for damages. Faulty tires can be caused by design defects, manufacturing defects, or failing to warn users about problems with the tire.

Product defect lawsuits in California can help injury victims and their families recover damages for:

If someone is killed in a car accident caused by a faulty tire, the family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California for compensation and to hold the tire company responsible for their actions.

A traffic accident may also be caused by another driver who knew he or she was driving on a faulty tire. In this case, the injured driver, passenger, or pedestrian may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent driver for damages.

2. What damages are available in a defective tire lawsuit?

In a defective tire lawsuit, the injured plaintiff can seek damages for the losses associated with the accident. Compensatory damages in a personal injury lawsuit are intended to put the plaintiff in a similar position they would have been but for the accident.

Compensatory damages are generally divided up as “economic” and “non-economic” damages. Economic damages generally have a determinable dollar value. Non-economic damages may be more difficult to calculate but are based on other losses suffered as a result of the accident.

Economic and non-economic compensatory damages in a tire defect lawsuit may include:

  • Hospital bills,
  • Emergency medical care,
  • Medication and medical supplies,
  • Future medical treatment,
  • Lost income,
  • Lost earning potential,
  • Pain and suffering, and
  • Court fees.

3. How do defective tires cause accidents?

The tire on a vehicle is responsible for transferring the weight of the vehicle through the axle to the ground. The tire also provides traction and steering. Drivers rely on tires to control the vehicle at high speeds and avoid obstacles. When a tire is defective, it can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle, causing an accident and injuring the driver, passengers, and others.

The most common tire defects include tread separating from the tire and weak points in the tire causing a blowout. These can be caused by manufacturing defects, design defects, or using inferior products to make or repair tires.

Tread Separation

The tread is the part of the tire with patterns of grooves that allow the tire to grip the road. This includes grooves to allow water to be expelled and prevent hydroplaning on a wet surface. If the tread begins to separate from the rest of the tire, also called delamination, the driver can lose control of the vehicle.

Tread separation can occur in new tires with design problems or manufacturing defects. Tread separation can also occur in tires which have been retread when there has not been enough curing time or inferior products were used to retread the tire. Improper flat tire repair can also cause tread separation.

Blowouts

Blowouts, or the tire rupturing while the car is traveling at speed, can be caused by design defects, manufacturing defects, or from tread separation. The rubber can lose its bond with the internal steel belting and fabric reinforcement resulting in a rapid loss of air pressure.

Tire blowouts can also be caused by vehicle owner's negligence or operator error. Overloading a vehicle or using bad tires can cause a blowout and lead to an accident. At high speed, a tire blowout can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle, veer off the road, or crash into a barrier or other vehicle.

4. Who is to blame for a defective tire?

If the tire was defective when it was sold to the consumer, the plaintiff does not necessarily have to show who was responsible for the defect. Under California's “product liability” laws, the party who designed, manufactured, or sold the defective workout product is liable for injuries caused by that product.

Strict Liability

The consumer is not in the best position to know what caused a tire defect. It could have been a product design flaw, a manufacturing problem, or occurred somewhere down the line before the tire was sold to the innocent buyer. Product liability lawsuits allow the plaintiff to file a claim without having to show that any one defendant was negligent. In product defect cases, strict liability can be imposed for:

Negligence

If the tire was fine when it was sold to the user, someone else may be liable for a tire-related accident. This could include:

  • Tire repair shop;
  • Used tire seller;
  • Mechanic; or
  • Vehicle owner.

Under California negligence law, if an accident was caused by someone's negligence, the negligent party may be liable for any injuries and damages caused to another. In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff has to show the defendant was negligent in causing the accident. The elements of negligence in California include:

  1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care; and
  3. The defendant's breach was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injuries.1

5. How do I prove the defective tire caused the accident?

The plaintiff in a product liability case does not have to show the tire manufacturer or seller was negligent. The tire company may still be liable even if no one was negligent in producing the defective tire. To recover damages in a products liability case, the injured plaintiff generally has to show:

  1. The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed or sold a defective product;
  2. The product contained the defect when it left the defendant's possession;
  3. The plaintiff used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
  4. The plaintiff suffered an injury or harm as a result of the defect.2

Expert Testimony

To show the injuries were the result of the tire defect, the plaintiff may have to present expert testimony showing the tire defect was a cause of the accident. The plaintiff's attorney will generally send the accident information and possibly the remaining pieces of the tire to a tire engineer or other expert. The expert will provide an opinion on how the tire defect may have caused the accident.

6. Strict Liability for Tire Defects in California

Strict liability in California product defect cases generally involves one of the following types of product defects:

6.1. Manufacturing Defects

A manufacturing defect is something that occurs during production that causes a product to differ from:

  • the manufacturer's design or specifications, or
  • other typical units of the same product line.4

In a tire defect case, evidence of a manufacturing defect could be shown by comparing the defective tire to other tires of the same product line or to the intended specifications. Any differences in the product could be evidence of a possible defect.

To prove liability for a tire manufacturing defect in California, the plaintiff must prove the following four elements:

  1. The defendant manufactured, distributed or sold a tire;
  2. The tire contained a manufacturing defect when it left the defendant's possession;
  3. The plaintiff suffered an injury; and
  4. The tire's defect was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.5
Example: Harrison was driving his car through Ontario on the 10 freeway on the way home from dropping off a friend at the airport. Suddenly, Harrison heard a loud bang and lost control of his car. The next thing he knew, Harrison woke up in the hospital.

Harrison contacted a California personal injury attorney about his accident. After an investigation, Harrison's lawyer determined the accident was caused by a defective tire manufactured by Cucamonga Tyre Co. Harrison's lawyer files a product liability lawsuit against Cucamonga Tyre Co. for Harrison's injuries.

Cucamonga Tyre Co. claims they did not know what caused the problem but they were very careful when making the tires. There was no employee who was negligent and all employees had a lot of experience making tires.

However, Harrison does not need to show the company or employees were negligent. Harrison only needs to show that: (1) Cucamonga Tyre Co. manufactured the tire; (2) the tire was defective when it left the tire company's possession; (3) Harrison was injured; and (4) the injury was a substantial factor in causing Harrison's injuries. If Harrison can prove these elements, Cucamonga Tyre Co. may be liable for Harrison's injuries.

6.2. Design Defects

A tire defect may be considered a design defect if either:

  • The tire failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in a reasonably foreseeable manner or as expected, or
  • The benefits of the tire's design do not outweigh the risk of danger inherent in such design.6

Based on the consumer expectation test, in order to recover damages in a defective tire design claim, the plaintiff has to prove the following four elements:

  1. The defendant manufactured, distributed, or sold the tire;
  2. The tire did not perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected when used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable way;
  3. The plaintiff was harmed; and
  4. The tire's failure to perform safely was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.7

In strict liability cases, the plaintiff does not necessarily have to sue the company that was responsible for the defect. The defendant may be liable if the defendant “manufactured, distributed, or sold” the defective tire.

Example: Ivan needed to buy four new tires for his car. Ivan went to the big tire company in town and was shocked by how expensive tires were. Ivan went down the street to Cut Rate Tires. Jensen, the owner of Cut Rate Tires, sold Ivan four new tires made by Zippy Tire Company.
A month later, Ivan's car had a blowout, causing him to crash and leaving him with a totaled car and a broken arm. The blowout was caused by a design defect in the model of Zippy Tire Company tires Ivan had purchased from Jensen.
Ivan files a product liability lawsuit against Jensen and Cut Rate Tires for damages. Jensen says the defect was in the tire and it was not his fault. Jensen says he did not even know about the defect and even had the same tires on his own car.
However, Ivan does not have to show that the seller was responsible for the defect or even knew about the defect. Ivan has a claim against Jensen and Cut Rate Tires because Cut Rate Tires sold the defective tires. If Ivan can prove the other elements of the claim, Jensen and Cut Rate Tires may be liable for Ivan's damages.

6.3. Warning Defects

A tire could also be considered defective if the manufacturer, distributor, or seller did not provide adequate warnings or safety instructions for the tires. To recover damages on a California failure to warn claim for defective tires, the plaintiff must prove that:

  1. The defendant manufactured, distributed or sold the tire;
  2. The tire had potential risks that were known or knowable by the defendant;
  3. The risks presented a substantial danger when the product was used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable way;
  4. Ordinary consumers would not have recognized the potential risks;
  5. The defendant failed to adequately warn consumers of the potential risks; and
  6. The plaintiff was harmed as a result of the inadequate warnings.8

7. What are tire company defenses to a product liability lawsuit?

The tire company, distributor, or seller may claim a number of legal defenses to a claim of product liability. This is to avoid liability for the defective tire or to try and shift the blame onto someone else. Defenses to tire defect cases may include:

  • The defendant did not manufacture, distribute, or sell the defective tires;
  • The tire was not defective;
  • The tire was misused or used in an unforeseeable way;
  • The plaintiff was not injured;
  • Someone else modified or altered the tire after it was sold to the plaintiff; or
  • The plaintiff caused the accident.

Even if the tire company is able to show the plaintiff was partly to blame for the accident, the plaintiff may still be able to recover partial damages from the tire company. Under California's “comparative fault” law, the plaintiff can recover damages based on the level of fault of the defendant.

For example, if the tire company is 80% at fault for selling a defective tire and the plaintiff is 20% at fault for causing the accident, the plaintiff may still be able to recover 80% of their damages from the tire company.

8. Can I file a defective tire lawsuit if my spouse or partner was killed in an accident?

Family members who have lost a loved one in a defective tire accident may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to hold the tire manufacturer responsible for their negligence. Under California's wrongful death law, certain family members can file a wrongful death claim for damages.9

Only certain family members are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. This includes:

  • A surviving spouse;
  • A surviving domestic partner;
  • Any children;
  • Grandchildren (if the children are deceased); or
  • Anyone else who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.

Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit include the losses suffered by the family as a result of the death of family member. This includes economic and non-economic compensatory damages. A wrongful death lawsuit may seek damages for:

  • Burial expenses;
  • Funeral costs;
  • Loss of financial support to the family that the deceased would have earned if he or she had survived; and
  • Compensation for the loss of companionship, support, guidance, and affection.

9. Tire Defect Cases and Recalls

There have been a number of reports of tire defects in the U.S. However, it generally takes multiple accidents and injuries before a tire company may initiate a recall or before the federal government requires the company to recall faulty tires.

There have been thousands of tire brands and lines reported for recalls, investigations, or complaints over the years. Every year, new complaints and recalls are issued for popular tire brands and sizes, including:

  • Michelin
  • Bridgestone
  • Goodyear
  • Pirelli
  • Continental
  • Hankook
  • Firestone
  • Kumho
  • Kelly

Consumers can search for reports of recalls or complaints based on their tire brand and type at www.safercar.gov.

Les Schwab Retread Tire Recall

On March 16, 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a recall of more than 40,000 retread tires from Les Schwab.10 According to the recall notice, “the completely cured vulcanizing compound can result in the tire tread separating from the tire casing, increasing the risk of a crash.”

Les Schwab Tire Centers have almost 500 locations in nine western states, including California. The tire company has reported they will notify customers about the affected tires and will exchange the tires for properly retread tires. However, owners may also contact the NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hotline.

Goodyear Tire Accidents

In 2018, the NHTSA launched an investigation into possible defective Goodyear motorhome tires.11 The defective tires may have been associated with almost 100 RV deaths and injuries. The tires were sold between 1996 and 2003 and were initially designed for delivery trucks instead of motorhomes. The tires were may not have been designed for traveling at highway speeds.

Information about the tire's design and testing was sealed as part of a number of court settlements between Goodyear and the injury victims. However, an Arizona judge ordered the information should be released because the tire defects represent a threat to public health and safety.

The Goodyear tire defect may involve approximately 160,000 tires. The NHTSA has notified Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. that there have been a number of reports of deaths and injuries that are allegedly associated with the G159 tires installed on Class A motorhomes.

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Call us for help...

For questions about tire defect accident lawsuits in California or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  2. See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) Series 1200 -- Products Liability.
  3. Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 (“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.”)
  4. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1202 -- Strict Liability -- “Manufacturing Defect” Explained.
  5. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1201 -- Strict Liability -- Manufacturing Defect Essential Factual Elements.
  6. Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. (1978) 20 Cal.3d 413.
  7. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1203 Strict Liability -- Design Defect -- Consumer Expectation Test.
  8. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1205 -- Strict Liability -- Failure to Warn - Essential Factual Elements.
  9. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
  10. NHTSA Recalls. Campaign Number: 18T002000
  11. NHTSA Investigation: Goodyear G159 Tire

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