In a rare and tragic instant Aila Masud was struck and killed by a flying tire while driving on I-85 in Atlanta. Eyewitness accounts agree that the wheel came from a passenger vehicle driving the opposite direction although there is mixed information about the driver trying to avoid something in the road.
My wife read the article and being married to a car accident lawyer, she naturally asked “who is legally responsible for the tire killing the woman?” The sad thing is that our law firm has been through this exact situation before. We recently settled a case in Maryland with co-counsel involving a man struck in the chest while driving by a runaway wheel from traffic going the other direction.
The beginning step in the analysis of legal liability is to understand why the wheel would come off. Most wheels are attached with 5 lug nuts attached to lugs, which are very strong bolts that are a part of the wheel. It is rare for the entire wheel assembly to come off so what usually has happened is the lug nuts have sheared off due to alignment problems with the threads, or came loose due to improper tightening. Years ago in New York, my wheel came off of a vintage 1976 Dodge truck due to a thief having loosed the nuts in a theft attempt. I had about 30-40 seconds of progressive vibration as the nuts loosened and then the wheel accelerated and rolled ahead. In my case, theft caused the loosening and I had no time to react at highway speeds.
In the Maryland case, we deposed the inspection shop employees who had removed and inspected the wheels mere weeks before. In addition to legal liability on the driver who failed to stop and check on the vibration he noticed, the repair shop negligently tightened the nuts and both parties ended up paying a total of $220,000 for the crush injuries to the client’s shoulder.
In the Atlanta case, the key issue will be, “why did the wheel come off?” Who tightened it improperly? Who failed to notice abnormal road vibrations? Who failed to inspect it correctly? Nothing will bring back this chid’s mother, but as a community, learning how it happened can prevent this tragic chain of events from repeating themselves.