Car accidents caused by wheel separation, or detached wheels, are typically rare in Georgia, but when a wheel comes loose and is propelled into traffic, fatal accidents can occur.
That’s exactly what happened to one motorist in 2017 just north of Atlanta. A wheel from a truck came loose while traveling northbound on S.R. 400 in Sandy Springs. It flew over the median wall into southbound traffic and struck a passenger vehicle – causing a fatal injury.
How one wheel can leave a path of destruction
When wheel separation happen, impacted road users have little to no time to react. At high speed, a single wheel can wreak havoc by:
- Crashing through another vehicle’s window or windshield
- Causing other vehicles to swerve or stop abruptly
- Rolling off bridges and overpasses
- Striking pedestrians and bicyclists
- Crashing into houses and buildings
- In addition, the vehicle that lost a wheel could lose control and cause a crash.
It all comes down to installation and maintenance
Wheels are not designed to just detach from vehicles. According to Crash Forensics, wheel separations typically happen for the following reasons:
- Over-torqueing lug nuts: When mounting a wheel, the lug nuts must be securely and evenly fastened on the bolts. The bolts are designed to maintain “clamp load.” This means they can stretch and retract to their original form after a wheel has been properly mounted. When the lug nuts are tightened too much, the bolts can become overstretched and unable to retract. Over time, this can cause them to fail and even break off. When fastening lug nuts, the torque should only be around 100 foot-pounds, according to Crash Forensics. However, many impact wrenches, especially those used by mechanics, have the capability to produce up to 500 foot-pounds of torque.
- Under-torqueing lug nuts: If the lug nuts aren’t tightened enough, they can eventually come loose and fall off. Under-torqueing is usually caused by poor wrench quality, eroded and rusted bolts, or a person’s lack of experience in mounting wheels.
- Friction in wheel and hub bearing: The bearings encompassed by the hub are designed to allow wheels to move efficiently without creating friction. However, friction can occur if the bearings lack adequate lubrication, if the axle nut is installed incorrectly, or if the vehicle is carrying too much weight. Over time, friction can inflict serious wear and tear to the wheel, eventually causing it to fall off.
- Other factors to consider: When a wheel separation occurs, worn out tie rods and struts could be the culprit.
Finding negligence in a wheel separation accident
Wheel separation accidents aren’t as simple to pinpoint as any other type of accident. You may know what happened if you were struck by the vehicle that lost its wheel, but a wheel propelled into traffic could have come from anywhere. Determining the responsible party may require an in-depth investigation by an experienced Macon car accident attorney. Responsible parties could include:
- The owner of the vehicle: If the vehicle previously failed inspection or showed signs of a faulty wheel, the owner could be found liable. When a vehicle is deemed unsafe to drive, the owner is responsible for having all safety defects fixed. Pinpointing the responsible party may require camera footage or an eyewitness.
- A mechanic who worked on the vehicle: The owner of the vehicle could have had it worked on by a mechanic. If a service error was made that caused a wheel to fall off, the mechanic or shop could be found liable.
- Parts manufacturer: Not all vehicle parts do what they were designed to do. In fact, parts defects are more common than you think and often result in recalls. If a defective vehicle part caused an accident, the manufacturer can be found liable.
At the Law Offices of Jon R. Hawk, no car accident is too complex. Our legal team is dedicated to helping injured motorists recover the compensation they deserve. Contact us today to learn more.