Articles Posted in Tire Defects

Miami tire lawyers need to distinguish between what is commonly referred to as a “blowout” and a “tread separation” event. The term “blowout” is a misnomer when generically used to describe all types of tire failures. Newspaper reporters, Florida law enforcement, and attorneys commonly misuse the term “blowout.”

To tire experts, vehicle dynamic engineers, and product liability attorneys familiar with these types of cases the term “tire blowout” is not synonymous with “tread separation,” as these two terms represent two entirely different types of phenomenon.

Experts in the field generally define a “tire blowout” as the rapid loss of air and pressure from a tire through a tear or opening in the tire which results in the tire suddenly going flat.

A tread separation is a very specific type of tire failure initiated by the top layer of tread and the outermost steel belt peeling away from the carcass of the tire in a fashion that leaves the remainder of the tire intact with the tread peeled away either completely or partially. The tire lexicon is further muddied by the fact that “tread separations” are also referred to as “tread belt detachments” or “tire de-laminations.”

While both “tire blowouts” and “tread separations” may occur suddenly and unexpectedly, and both may affect vehicle dynamics and controllability, there are critical differences relating to:

1. What each term is describing (as explained above);
2. What causes these two different types of tire failures;
3. What happens following these two different types of tire failures and what effect they have on vehicle dynamics and controllability.

In part II of this article we will discuss the causes; and in part III we will discuss the consequences of these two types of tire failure events.
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As Miami tire attorneys we had the opportunity last year to represent a young man who suffered catastrophic injuries in a tire defect case resulting in a rollover.

The defendant who manufactured the tire defended the case on a theory that a nail, at some time prior to the tire failure, had punctured the tire, and penetrated all the way through to the inner liner. It was hypothesized that the nail remained embedded in the tire, but allowed pressurized air to seep into the component parts of the tire which caused deterioration of the tire and ultimately a tire failure by tread separation.

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The opinions of our experts were diametrically opposed, and one of our experts expressed the opinion that every system within the tire designed to prevent tread separation was deficient and defective.

Even though we had confidence in our tire experts, and the manner in which they presented their opinions, we took an aggressive approach and attempted to disprove the manufacturer’s theory that the tire peeled apart and unraveled because of a nail.

First, we showed through x-rays that the interior portions of the tire, including the microfibers in the bottom steel belt were not disturbed in any fashion in the area where the manufacturer claimed the nail had penetrated into the tire. How could a nail have gone from the outside, through the tread and all the way through to the inner liner, and then been yanked out at the time of the tire failure and not leave some evidence of disturbance in the area through which it must have passed?

On videotape deposition we asked the defense tire experts to locate and pinpoint the area where they believed the nail had entered the tire. Even though the tread had been pulled off the tire the underlying carcass of the tire remained intact. After identifying the area where they believed the nail passed through the tire, their experts, while on videotape, were unable to identify anything that resembled a hole caused by a nail passing through the tire.

The final downfall of the manufacturer’s nail theory was when we forensically explored the other rear tire that had not failed, and which remained intact during the accident. The other tire was made by another manufacturer, had protective features – such as cap plies -which were absent in the failed tire. Here we had a perfect example of another tire that had experienced the same roadway use as the tire in question but did not fail or fall apart.

Interestingly, the rear companion tire also had a puncturing object inserted into it, and you could see the head of the object in the tread. This did not cause the tire to fail and the defendant/manufacturer argued that it was possibly because this puncturing object did not go all the way through to the inner liner. Thereafter, we had the companion tire dismounted from the rim which dramatically showed that the puncturing object (a metal spike larger than a nail) went all the way through to the inner liner. In the companion tire we had proof positive that the manufacturer/defendant’s theory could not be substantiated.
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Tire tread separations are a concern for drivers in South Florida because this phenomenon most typically occurs in hot weather climates. Tread separations occur when the tread and the top steel belt detach, and pull away from the underlying steel belt and the remainder of the carcass of the tire, leaving a tire stripped of the tread.

As Miami tire lawyers pursuing claims against tire manufacturers for product defects associated with manufacturing and design, we have brought claims against almost every major tire manufacturer in the world. Many of these claims have related to tire defects specifically associated with tread separation events. The desire to avoid these events is compelling because tread separations commonly result in loss of control of the vehicle and rollover accidents.

Many times in these cases tire manufacturers have countered our allegations of tire defect with the theory that the tire, at some previous time in its life, experienced some sort of impact which may have caused damage to the integrity of the internal components of the tire.

In taking the sworn statements of many tire experts hired by tire companies we repeatedly find that these experts are incapable of answering the simplest questions about their asserted theory that impact may have caused damage to the tire which resulted in the tread separation. These experts are uniformly unable to answer the following questions: What is the object that caused the impact? What is the size of the object? At what speed was the object struck?

Furthermore, if it is a rear tire that separated we are always curious why the front tire did not also suffer some damage by an object that common sense indicates must have also been run over by the front tire. When we ask these experts if common roadway objects such as a curb, rock or two by four piece of wood could have been the object that was impacted and caused the tread separation; we are told that it is possible that such commonplace objects could in fact create an impact resulting in a catastrophic tire failure.

It is amusing and ironic to see repeated advertisements for tires showing vehicles riding on rocky and mountainous trails, lifting off the roadway, and going airborne and bouncing over boulders and other objects. These advertisements are designed to show the rugged and durable nature of tires being sold. Yet when someone suffers a significant injury as a result of a rollover caused by a tire failure attorneys representing injured individuals in tire defect cases are confronted with the theory that impact, as apposed to some manufacturing or design defect, caused the tire to break apart. In controlled studies tire experts and engineers have been unable to recreate a tire tread separation caused by impact damage. This further heightens the suspicion about the asserted defense that impact damage causes tread separations.
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There are two main enemies which break down a tire. One is heat and the other is oxygen. Warm weather makes Florida an area where drivers are more susceptible to tire failures, and tire design, particularly the tire ingredients are important to tire safety.

A tire is a highly engineered composite of different materials and compounds. The innerliner of a tire is a thin layer of rubber on the innermost portion of a modern radial tire. The innerliner is positioned next to the pressurized air which inflates the tire and its primary function is to prevent that air and moisture from entering into the internal parts of the tire. Accordingly, the innerliner is designed to be impermeable to air and moisture.

Rubber in general is to some degree permeable. That is why an inflated balloon will begin to sag over time because the pressurized air inside of the balloon will permeate to the outer atmosphere and leave the balloon less inflated. For the same reason, over time the tire pressure of tires should be checked on occasion because some loss of air pressure will occur naturally over time.

One of the main ingredients used in innerliners to prevent air from permeating into the internal components of the tire is a substance called halobutyl. Halobutyl was first patented in 1937 and has been recognized by tire experts to be 13 times more resistant to permeation than natural rubber. This is important because when air permeates into the internal components of the tire the oxygen acts to deteriorate the various compounds, which over time may lead to tire failures including tread separations.

When our firm is involved in tire failure cases we seek information regarding the percentage of halobutyl used in innerliner by various manufacturers. This information is closely guarded by tire manufacturers. The manufacturers typically object to providing this information as a trade secret. When this information is extracted from them, typically requiring court orders, it is commonly provided under the protection of a confidentiality order.

Some manufacturers have used 100% halobutyl in their tire innerliners on passenger and light truck tires. We have found a great variety in the percentage of halobutyl used in different tires by different companies, and where we believe the percentage of halobutyl is too low, we have addressed this as a design defect contributing to tire failures.

Tires are heated or vulcanized in an effort to have the various ingredients of the tire meld together as one unit which cannot be broken apart at the various interfaces of the different components. When something is baked to create one cohesive unit the ingredients are critical. Halobutyl is a critical ingredient to provide protection from air permeation in the innerliner of a tire.
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Tire Diagram.bmpFlorida drivers need to be aware of tire tread separations which are a phenomenon known to occur in hot weather climates.

When a tread separation occurs, the tire tread and top steel belt detach from the carcass of the tire, typically resulting in loss of control of the vehicle, and often times followed by rollover events and catastrophic injuries.

A tire is made up of different systems and components. Many of these systems and components have features designed to prevent tread separation because the consequences of such an event can be tragic.

One of the systems utilized to prevent a tread separation is a nylon overlay, commonly called a nylon cap ply, which is a layer of rubberized parallel nylon cords, which are wrapped circumferentially over the top of the steel belts and under the tread. These nylon overlays are designed to prevent catastrophic tread and belt detachments.

The nylon overlay or cap ply acts to prevent or retard the pulling apart of the two steel belts from each other which results in a tread separation. A tread separation typically begins at the outer edges of the steel belt, and by having this area wrapped in a protective layer of nylon the separation process is prevented from advancing.

Many tire manufacturers have admitted through testimony in lawsuits that the cost of adding this feature of a nylon overlay to a tire would typically cost less than one dollar per tire. After many years of arguing against the use of nylon overlays, many tire manufacturers are now utilizing this safety feature on a more routine basis because of its proven effectiveness.
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On March 19, 2011, NHTSA announced that Continental Tires would be recalling 390,000 light truck tires. Approximately, 330,000 of the tires in question were original equipment in the 2008 and 2009 Ford F-250 and F-350 pickup trucks. An additional, 60,000 tires were sold as replacement tires.

Continental issued the recall as a result of the tire’s susceptibility to suffer tread belt separations. A tread belt separation is a phenomenon where a tire’s tread becomes completely detached from the underlying tire structures. This phenomenon exposes the operator of a motor vehicle to the sudden and unexpected loss of control, often resulting in a rollover and catastrophic injuries and even deaths to vehicle occupants.

The recalled tires experienced a high rate of uneven wear, vibration and separation at the belt edges; all conditions that could lead to tread belt separations. Continental has already received notice of one fatality and a personal injury.

The recalled tires are the following:

CONTINENTAL / CONTITRAC / LT275/70R18 125/122S
CONTINENTAL / CONTITRAC TR BSW / LT275/70R18 125/122S
CONTINENTAL / CONTITRAC TR OWL / LT275/70R18 125/122S

As South Florida tire lawyers, Jay Halpern & Associates will be closely following the Continental recall. We have handled dozens of cases involving Continental tires and other recalled tires and continue to handle a significant number of tire defect cases.

Tires are intended to be designed to resist tread belt separation because the consequences of this event are known to be tragic. As shown by the recall, tread belt separations can occur due to design and manufacturing defects despite the fact that a tire manufacturer complies with the minimum federal standards.
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Screen shot 2011-02-25 at 1.52.33 PM.pngTread Separation is a type of tire failure, that predominantly occurs in warm weather climates like South Florida, and is also known as “delamination” or “tread belt detachment.” It is characterized by the top layer of tread together with the top steel belt peeling away from the carcass of the tire. The tread may come off completely or partially, leaving the carcass of the tire looking as if the tread has been peeled away.

Tread separation is an extremely dangerous phenomenon because it changes the driving dynamics of a motor vehicle and typically occurs at highway speeds. This places the driver in the unenviable position of having to deal with a motor vehicle which is reacting erratically, and differently than it had been responding just moments prior to the tread separation. For this reason it is common for tread separations to initiate rollover events with catastrophic consequences.

Tread separations found their way into the public consciousness in 2000 following the recall of millions of Firestone tires that were standard equipment on Ford Explorers, and were linked to hundreds of rollover events resulting injury and death.

Jay Halpern and Associates handled dozens of these cases involving the recalled Firestone tires, and continues to handle a significant number of tire defect cases. In many tread separation cases we have handled it has been our position that the tires were defective because of built in design and manufacturing adhesion defects in the area between the two steel belts that contributed to the separation process and the tread peeling away from the remainder of the tire.

Interestingly, tread separation cases tend to occur disproportionally in warm weather states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona and Southern California.

The tire companies and their defense experts are reluctant to admit that their tires have any defects. Instead they typically blame the owner of the vehicle of poor maintenance of the tire. The problem with this argument is that it would lead to the ridiculous conclusion that people in warm weather climates take worse care of their vehicles than those in cooler climates.

The well known truth is that heat build up accelerates the tread separation process. At our firm we believe that tires need to be designed and manufactured so that they retain their integrity and do not peel apart when subjected to the extra stress of operating in a warm weather. It’s just common sense.
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Old tires are especially dangerous in hot climates like Florida. Over time the material properties of rubber break down and the rubber in tires loses its supple and elastic qualities, making it more subject to failure. Consider an old, brittle rubber band which loses its elasticity and breaks easily. While the notion that an old tire is dangerous may be a concept which can be appreciated, it is far from obvious to always know when one is dealing with an old tire. Tires which are stored in spare wheel positions for long periods of time may be chronologically old but look brand new and have deep unused tread depth.

The age of a tire is identified in the DOT number which appears on every tire. Without special knowledge, the DOT number resembles a cryptic series of letters and numbers. Determining the age of a tire is further compounded by the fact that the DOT number is difficult to locate and see because it is molded on the tire in the same color as the rest of the tire, and situated on the area of the tire that sits next to the rim.

We recently handled a case involving a brilliant young man (valedictorian of his high school class, scholar athlete award, most likely to succeed award, degree from an Ivy League college in biomedical engineering) who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a rollover accident caused by a defective tire. The tire was a nine year old tire which was in the spare position for 8 and ½ years before ever being used on the roadway. It looked brand new with deep, pristine tread when it was placed on the right rear wheel position by a local tire service dealer. After the accident an investigating Florida Highway Patrol officer was assigned to examine and photograph all of the tires. Even the highly trained Florida Highway Patrol officer had no idea how to read the DOT number or determine the chronological age or birth date of the tire. Our theories in this case against the tire manufacturer included various tire defects, and failure to warn about the age of the tire.

A general rule of thumb adopted by many tire experts is that a tire should not be used beyond six years after the manufacturing date. When you purchase new tires insist that the DOT number reflect a date of manufacture within twelve months of the date of purchase, because unused does not equal new.
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