There is no denying the fact that tires are most often blamed for motor vehicle accidents. But statistics show that tire failures account for less than 1 percent of the accidents. It is encouraging that most tires deliver unbelievable performance considering the conditions under which they are used. Still, if only one tire out of four fails during normal service, the risk of injury may be uncomfortably high.
The tire industry is second only to the medical profession as the object of lawsuits, and the tire industry is more prone to product liability litigation than in past years.
Contingency-fee lawyers have a strong incentive to get clients interested in their services, and in many cases they will encourage customers with a complaint to try their luck in court-where the consumer can do no wrong and the manufacturer has to overcome an assumption of guilt.
Our legal system is systematically biased in favor of plaintiffs and obsessed with the exorcism of defects-defects in products, defects in warning and defects in performance.
Considering that we are a litigious society, a wise course of action is to treat all claims involving tire adjustments as potential lawsuits. This means that whether you know it or not, if you sell an imperfect or otherwise unsatisfactory tire or retread, you are likely to find yourself in court.
With or without insurance, no one likes to be sued. Being on the receiving end of litigation is costly, time consuming, troublesome and socially demeaning.
A defective tire may not necessarily be a product with a defect in it. It is a product that fails to provide the safety customers are entitled to expect. In deciding what constitutes such a degree of safety, the factors to be taken into account may include: the way in which the product was advertised, labeled and packaged; warning notices; the ways the product might reasonably be put to use; and the time when it was first supplied by the producer.
The last factor is important as it may be said the state of technical knowledge at the relevant time was not such that the producer could be expected to have discovered a defect.
When a tire fails, don't assume it is only the manufacturer who will be sued, leaving you in the clear. If you sold the tire, you can expect to be named in the lawsuit. And if it can be proven that you were negligent in any way, your liability coverage will be tested in court.
The manufacturer is likely to disclaim any responsibility for damages arising from a tire that was incorrectly stored or mounted. If you fail to pass on any warnings, advice or service restrictions provided by the manufacturer, the court would find this to be ``contributory negligence.''
For example, a fairly wide and confusing range of recommended tire pressures are listed in mounting charts, but some tire service personnel routinely use more simplified or general rules for tire inflation for all tires, which could lead to certain kinds of damage resulting from under or over inflation. Inflation charts should be prominently posted in the service area to avoid problems.
One of the most frequent symptoms of tire failure is tread separation, where the tread rubber and/or belt assembly separates or peels from the casing. This failure often is mistakenly assumed to be a retread-related problem by the public, who see chunks or ribbons of tire treads along our highways.
In the majority of cases, close inspection reveals that the retread rubber is still firmly affixed to the belt assembly, which has often separated from the tire body. Even if the tread does not fall off the casing, when the separated portions of the tire rub together as they pass through the ground contact area on each tire revolution, they can generate high frictional heat causing the cord and rubber compounds to actually melt.
The beginnings of a separation may start with an air pocket or blister caused by inadequate adhesion, uneven cord stresses or migrating or wicked air pockets. It is not unusual to find an air pocket 180 degrees from a nail hole as the cords themselves are not air tight and allow air to wick through the filaments.
A relatively small air pocket may be enlarged by the rotating tire footprint or directional squeezing action. Usually there is some physical evidence of the originating damage that gave rise to the air pocket. In most cases there is some advance warning of an impending blowout-noise, thumping or vibration.
The tread separation is not the defect; it is an intermediate condition between the preliminary damage that caused the separation and the final blowout. Whatever the specific cause, any significant tread or ply separation can add to the hysteresis-generated heat and exceed the normal tire equilibrium temperature. The result is loss of ply strength and blowout, usually at high vehicle speeds.
When confronted by an angry customer with a tire failure, the most common defense is to state: ``You must have hit something''-a rock, curb, chuck hole or a foreign object on the highway that caused internal damage.
When dealing with a tire failure, the first thing to do is to examine the damaged unit. Whenever possible, the tire should be accompanied by its wheel-preferably still mounted.
Make sure you get all the pieces, including the tread slab. Often the under surface of the tread may furnish important evidence of a defect.
Thoroughly analyze the failed tire assembly objectively and honestly in order to determine what caused the failure. If it's a retread failure, were measures taken to prevent further occurrences of the problem?
From an unnoticed puncture to separation to blowout, it all boils down to the fact that the tire user must follow ``instructions for use.'' The customer has to be informed and provided with technical advice.