Question: My son had his car’s left front tire blowout while he was traveling at 70 mph. This tire blowout caused the vehicle to veer into the inside guardrail. The tires were inspected prior to the accident and were in good shape. The car was totaled, and the insurance company is claiming that my son was responsible for the accident, not the tire, because he failed to maintain control of the vehicle. Is he at fault if he couldn't steer the vehicle?
Answer: Yes, your son can be found at fault for the incident by your car insurance company.
It’s not unusual for a driver to be found at fault for a one-car accident. However, single-car incidents where no fault is found typically are those have to do with nature such as a deer runs into your car, a tree falls onto your car during a storm or hail dents your roof.
A tire blowout may be an unanticipated event and make it hard to steer a vehicle, but it would appear that your auto insurer is saying that a reasonable and prudent driver should have been able to maintain control. Since your son was unable to do so, he was assigned blame for the incident that totaled the car and damaged the guardrail.
The car insurance company isn’t saying that your son is a bad driver. If you son is a young driver, it's likely that it's a case of an inexperienced driver that was unable to control an unexpected situation and so crashed after his tire blew out. (See "3 critical skills driver's ed doesn't teach")
The National Safety Council gives advice on what to do in this situation. After a blowout, one needs to remain calm and gently maneuver the car out of traffic. This is done through gently slowing down, without using the brake if possible, and gradually moving over to the side of the road once the car is below 30 mph.
It’s likely that your son braked or turned the car suddenly after the blowout and ended up in the guardrail, and that is how he is found at fault. Also, if he were going over the speed limit, the insurer could consider this as part of the negligence that contributed to him totaling out the vehicle after the tire blew.
As you probably already know, your car’s damages will go under your collision coverage, since your son collided with the guardrail. You may not be aware, but the state will also probably find your son at fault for the accident and in turn contact you to pay for damages done to the guardrail. Luckily, your property damage liability coverage should cover this.
It’s very possible that this accident will cause your premiums to go up. This is due to claims being paid out to you and others on your behalf, and your son being at fault makes him a higher risk as a driver.
To help balance out your rates, ask your insurer if they'd offer any discounts if your son takes a driver improvement class, which could help him with his ability to maintain control in sudden, unexpected situations.