When Vehicle Malfunction Leads to Serious Injury or Death

I woke up this morning to a tragic story in the Providence Journal in which a Delaware woman was struck and killed in Rhode Island by a wheel that had “flown off” of a Hummer. Apparently the two vehicles were traveling on the highway in opposite directions when the wheel came free of the Hummer and traveled all the way across the divider into oncoming traffic striking the poor victim.

The comments section to the story included many questions as to fault in this accident, in particular, whether the owner of the Hummer should be held responsible. The answer is absolutely, yes. Not unlike my recent post discussing sudden illness and auto accidents, in which I explained that a person needs to be aware of their medical condition and accepts the risk of causing an accident because they fall ill, a person needs to be aware of the overall condition of their vehicle. Similarly, if our vehicle malfunctions in such a way as to cause injury to another person, then we are responsible for not properly maintaining the car. Driving an unsafe vehicle or ignoring loud noises or other warnings that the car is not operating properly is negligence and a person is definitely responsible if that negligence leads to another’s damages.

The facts of this case, however, suggest that additional defendants will also be responsible. There may be several potential defendants for a product liability claim in connection with this auto accident. The personal injury attorney should explore how and why the wheel came off of this vehicle. Were defective lugnuts or wheel bearings on this vehicle? I have seen other online articles suggesting that the wheels of a Hummer H2 can come off at high speeds which leads to question whether the Hummer is designed defectively. If so, GM may find themselves a party to this lawsuit.

Additionally, one would have to see if the Hummer was recently serviced or repaired. Perhaps it was recently inspected and the inspection facility failed to identify the problem with the wheel. When a strange and tragic accident like this occurs, there are inevitably hundreds of questions. Yes, the driver of the vehicle will be liable for damages, but so too may other defendants as the facts of this loss are uncovered.

My deepest condolences to the family.