A van rollover

May 1, 2009 by

A group of friends rented a new passenger van from a national rental company. They started in Seattle and drove 800 miles to Idaho Falls.   When it was time to return, they then drove those 800 miles back home. As they approached the end of their journey, per the driver, a tire blew out and the van rolled.  The vehicle was totaled.

One troubling fact was that when the van was initially brought out to them at the rental site, one of the tires was flat.   It was “repaired” just prior to their departure.  GEI was assigned to inspect and photograph the van to identify any manufacturing, mechanical, or service defects or failures  which could have caused or contributed to the accident.

The date of loss was almost New Year’s Day. We were engaged in February, but the vehicle was not available for inspection.   By mid-March it was still unavailable for inspection, so we closed the case.  Occasionally when we are hired to investigate an incident, we find that the case settles prior to us performing any work.   Usually, settlement terms are kept confidential, and the assignment just quietly goes away.   This appeared to be such an engagement.

Then in October, the client called again to ask for us to inspect the vehicle, which had been located.   A date was scheduled.  Unfortunately, our expert was in an accident of his own, and had to undergo back surgery. A replacement expert was assigned to the case.   The new inspection date was scheduled for the beginning of December.

The new expert inspected the van in the parking lot of an auto shop.   When the expert arrived at the inspection location, the van was covered with a tattered tarp, indicating that the vehicle had been sitting outside for a long period of time.  After the tarp was removed, it was apparent that the van had been involved in a rollover accident.   The driver’s door was detached from the vehicle and was located in the middle seats of the van.   The right sliding door was also detached and was located in the rear passenger compartment of the van.

The odometer reported about 12,000 miles.  The brakes at inspection were normal (no leaks, firm pedal feel, and the pedal was at the proper height), and would have been fully functional at the time of the accident. The air bags were not deployed.  All four tires were flat.   All were the same size, all were made by the same manufacturer, all were the same model tire, and all were of comparable tread depth. The right-side tires were broken loose from the rims at the bead.   The left front tire valve stem was broken and missing.   The left front tire tread had a spot where some of the tread appeared to have been cut away by contact with bent body parts.   The left rear tire had a cut in the outside wall that did not go all the way through.

This cut appeared to be caused by the weight of the van sitting on the flat tire for an extended period of time, allowing the rim to cut the tire.   The right rear tire had some scraping on the outside wall that appeared to be caused by the bent sheet metal of the wheel well contacting the tire.

It was reported that the left front tire had blown out.   During the inspection, the left front tire was removed from the rim for inspection of the interior walls.   The interior sidewalls showed no signs of damage.   There was no evidence that the tire had been run with low air pressure.   There was no evidence of a failed repair or patch and no evidence of a tread separation.   There was no evidence of impact damage to the tire or of a manufacturing defect.

A mechanical inspection of the van found some bent components that appeared to have been caused by the accident.   No failed mechanical components were observed that would have caused the accident.  On the same day the vehicle was inspected, the expert visited the accident scene.   No conclusions could be determined from the accident scene due to the time elapsed between the date of loss and the inspection.  The expert also reviewed the State Police incident report and photographs supplied by the client.

The conclusion: based on the inspection of the vehicle and tires, there was no evidence of any failure of the tires or mechanical defects to the van that would have caused the accident.   All damage to the tires and van appeared to be a result of the accident, rather than the cause.   The flat tire, at the time that they picked up the van, was unrelated to the accident.   Black ice, road debris, and/or driver fatigue would be viable candidates for the cause of the accident, but not the tires.

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