Langdon & Emison recently finalized a wrongful death settlement that involved claims against a confidential trucking company and confidential tire service company. Kent Emison, Mark Emison, and Alex Thrasher led the legal team.
In 2020, a 72-year-old man was killed in a tragic wheel-off incident that occurred on a rural Missouri highway. As the man drove down the highway, a wheel separated from an oncoming tractor-trailer. The wheel bounced across the median, went through the victim’s windshield, and impacted the victim’s upper body. The trucking victim died hours later.
The L&E legal team brought claims against the confidential trucking company for its inadequate training and failure to identify telltale signs of loose lugnuts prior to the wheel separation. The team also brought claims against the confidential tire service company for failing to install the wheel properly.
Systemic failures of both defendants led to this wheel separation, which the industry describes as an “unguided 200-pound missile.” Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the federal government revealed that the confidential trucking company had a history of maintenance and equipment violations due to inadequate inspections. Just months before the tragic wheel-off event, the federal government initiated an intervention and warned the confidential trucking company that its drivers needed to do more thorough pre-trip and post-trip inspections.
Likewise, the confidential tire service company had a history of wheel-off events after servicing commercial vehicles. In the 10 years prior to the subject incident, the confidential tire service company had documented 16 wheel separations that occurred after it installed a wheel on a commercial vehicle.
The confidential tire service company installed the wheel at issue just weeks before the separation occurred. After the installation, streaks from the lugnuts appears on the wheel hub – a telltale sign of loose lugnuts and potential wheel-off risk. The confidential trucking company had dozens of opportunities to identify this risk but failed to do so. Rather than taking the tractor-trailer out-of-service to service the wheel, the trucking company continued to drive the tractor-trailer interstate. Over time, the lugnuts lost clamping force which led to the dangerous wheel separation.
The case was venued in Clinton County, Missouri and settled on the eve of trial. The settlement involved $10 million from the confidential trucking company and $6 million from the confidential tire service company.