Lost Wheel Leads To Death

Two women were killed in a crash in Boone County, Indiana, on April 22, 2014, when their Ford Explorer suddenly lost its right rear wheel. The vehicle crossed the road’s center line and hit a Chevrolet Prizm head on. The driver and passenger in the Explorer were pronounced dead at the scene; the driver of the Prizm escaped injury.

The initial police investigation found that the wheel came off because the lug nuts were not tight and the loss caused the Explorer to go out of control and overturn.

Why would a wheel suddenly come off, and is this an isolated event? Last question first: Unfortunately, there have been many reported instances of wheels coming off vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website database contains 61 complaints from consumers whose wheel came off, and who knows how many such events occurred that were not reported to NHTSA. Those who did lodge a complaint were driving various makes and models of vehicles. Just last year, in May of 2013, Cadillac recalled about 27,000 of its 2013 SRX luxury crossover vehicles because “one or more of the wheel lug nuts could detach, or fatigue . . . . If this happens while the vehicle is moving, a crash could result without prior warning.”

As for the reasons for wheel run-off, in addition to a manufacturing defect, the problem could be caused by a failure to tighten the lug nuts securely. It is essential that they be tightened to the proper torque pressure for the specific vehicle. Both under- and over-tightening can be dangerous. Not only must the lug nuts be properly secured at manufacture, a repair shop or auto mechanic must follow the correct procedure and specifications after a brake job, alignment or tire rotation.

When a wheel run-off causes an accident, it is imperative that a forensic investigation be done to determine the cause and identify any negligent parties. Was the accident caused by a manufacturing defect? Had repairs been made to the vehicle recently? Did it lose the wheel because a mechanic failed to properly replace and tighten the lug nuts?

A personal injury lawyer who has experience in accident investigation and has working relationships with accident reconstruction experts and forensic mechanics will be able to shed some light on the situation for the victims and their families as they seek justice for their injuries.

April is National Car Care Month. It’s important that drivers have their cars routinely serviced — proper maintenance can prevent some accidents. At the same time, it’s important that those who provide these maintenance services be skillful and conscientious — they also can help prevent accidents.

Mike Stephenson, Indianapolis car accident lawyer with McNeely Stephenson, has been helping Indiana accident victims for more than 30 years. Call 1-317-825-5200 for a free evaluation of your car, truck , motorcycle or bicycle accident.