Although it has no stated definition in law, the term "freak accident"
is often used to describe an accident that is caused by a sequence of
unlikely events occurring at roughly the same time. These accidents are
sometimes called "perfect storm" accidents.
In today's post, the
commercial truck accident lawyer at The Doan Law Firm reviews the known facts of one such accident.
He then discusses how the law determines liability when dealing with an
accident that may, at first glance, appear to have unpreventable.
The Accident Details
The following summary was compiled from local news media sources.
On March 5th 2019, three students from Tulane University were traveling east on Interstate-10
when they pulled into a rest area just north of Gautier MS. As they were
returning to their car, a pair of wheels separated from the left rear
of tractor-tanker belonging to
Dana Transport that was traveling west. The wheels crossed the highway median and entered
the rest area via its eastbound return lane before striking the students'
vehicle. According to local news sources, 21-year-old Margaret Mauer died
at the scene but her companions suffered only minor injuries.
preliminary investigation by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) determined that
the probable cause for the wheels becoming detached was the absence of
a simple, inexpensive, metal part called a "locking washer."
In the commercial trucking industry, locking washers are used to keep
a vehicle's wheels attached.
We have been unable to confirm
what led the MDOT to conclude a locking washer was responsible for this accident.
However, based on our extensive experience with representing victims of
commercial truck accidents, we feel that one of three possible explanations
will eventually be accepted as the root cause of this tragedy. In
increasing order of probability, we suspect:
- The locking washer contained some manufacturing defect that caused it to
fail under the normal "wear and tear" of long distance trucking. Or,
- The locking washer was not defective but was not installed properly after
routine maintenance on the wheel / tire unit or following a tire change. Or,
The locking washer
was not reinstalled after routine maintenance / tire change.
Let's take a look at each of these possibilities.
1: The locking washer contained some manufacturing defect that caused it
to fail under the normal "wear and tear" of long distance trucking.
Although it isn't generally well known,
any metal will "stretch" or "distort" in response to outside
forces such as heat, vibration, chemical reaction, or friction. Such changes
occur at a microscopic level but, over time, could eventually weaken the
metal to the point that it could suddenly snap.
We consider this to unlikely because any major or "obvious" defect
would have been detected by the manufacturer's quality control testing
before the entire "lot" or "production run" left the
factory. Also, if defective locking washers started to show up in unusual
numbers at maintenance shops, it would probably have resulted in a federal
product recall as soon as a problem was suspected.
2: The locking washer was
not defective but was not installed properly after routine maintenance / inspection
of the wheel or following a tire change.
Although more likely than the "defect" possibility mentioned
above, we reject this explanation on the grounds that 1) the driver did
not sense that there may have been a problem
before the wheels separated and 2) as noted in the next paragraph, there was
no debris found
inside the wheel assembly that would indicate a gradual failure.
3: The locking washer
was not reinstalled after routine maintenance / tire change.
Based on reports in the local news media, particularly a story published
in the March 14th online edition of the
New Orleans Advocate under the title "Missing $3 part blamed for runaway big-rig tires that killed Tulane senior
Meg Maurer," we believe this to be the most likely cause of the "freak
accident" that took Meg's life. We base our conclusion on the
observation that when the MDOT investigators "unpacked" the
outer hub of the wheel assembly after the accident, only a single ring
was found rather than the two rings that are normally present. This, along
with abnormal wear patterns that are present in photographs published
with the Advocate's story.
Contacting a commercial trucking accident injury lawyer
In the case presented above, we believe that liability will fall squarely
on the shoulders of the last person to have serviced the wheel assembly
and that person's employer. From a legal standpoint, this is because:
A competent mechanic would have known that the wheel assembly required
two locking washer rings.
- Since the rings are inexpensive, it is unlikely that only one ring was
deliberately installed as a "cost-cutting" measure.
- Failure to install the second ring establishes the mechanic to have been
negligent while performing his / her job.
The mechanic's employer is also liable under the principle of
respondent superior, which holds that an employer is liable for the actions of an employee.
Although there are other issues that would have to be considered as well,
we believe that the above facts are sufficient to prove negligence in
a wrongful death lawsuit.
If, you or a family, member were injured in an accident involving a commercial
"long haul" truck, we invite you to contact our
commercial trucking accident injury lawyer here at
The Doan Law Firm, a national personal injury law firm with offices located throughout country,
to arrange a free review of your accident case and a discussion of the
legal options that may be available to you.
At our firm, your case review and first consultation with our
commercial trucking accident injury lawyer is always free and does not require you to hire us as your legal counsel.
Should you decide to file a lawsuit to insure that you receive
all the compensation that is due, we are willing to assume
full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage
of the settlement that we will win for you.