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In a bizarre tragedy Thursday evening, a Mequon, Wisconsin motorist was killed when a truck tire came loose from a truck traveling southbound on I-43, bounced over a retaining wall, and struck the windshield of the man’s 2007 BMW. The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner announced today that the victim, Krishma Chintamaneni, 55, died at the scene.

The driver of the semi from which the tire came loose did not stop at the scene, and it is unclear whether the truck driver was aware that a tire had come loose or that an accident had occurred. Authorities are searching for the driver of the semi, and are asking that anyone with information call the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department at (414) 278-4788.

The tragedy raises the question of whether an accident victim can recover compensation for injury or death when the accident is caused by a tire or part that flies off of another vehicle that flees or leaves the scene of the accident. The answer would seem to be “yes.”

If the victim has automobile liabilty insurance in Wisconsin, and in many other states, there is a mandatory level of uninsured motorist coverage. Where a physical contact has occurred between the fleeing vehicle and the victim’s vehicle, UM coverage applies and affords compensation.

So the question is whether there is “physical contact” between two vehicles when the contact consists of a piece of debris thrown by one vehicle into another. There is a case on point in Wisconsin. In Theis v. Midwest Sec. Ins. Co., 232 Wis.2d 749, 606 N.W.2d 162 (2000) it was held that uninsured motorist coverage applies where a part of a truck flies off and strikes the car of the victim having uninsured motorist coverage. In the Theis case a “truck leaf spring” was propelled into the victim’s vehicle by an unidentified passing semitractor, and the court held that there was UM coverage, even though there was no contact between the victim’s vehicle and the passing semitractor and even though it was unknown whether leaf spring came from the passing semitractor or another unidentified motor vehicle. It was enough that the passing semi propelled the piece into the victim’s car.

There are other situations where, unfortunately, uninsured motorist coverage has been denied. It has been established that in the case of a “miss and run”, that is where a vehicle swerves near but does not strike the victim’s car, causing the victim to loose control and get into an accident, there is no uninsured motorist coverage. Physical contact is required. Progressive Northern Ins. Co. v. Romanshek, 281 Wis.2d 300, 697 N.W.2d 417, 2005 WI 67 (Wis. Jun 07, 2005).

Similarly, earlier this year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held in the DeHart case that UM coverage was not mandated by the Wisconsin insurance statutes for an accident in which an unidentified vehicle made contact with a third vehicle, which caused the victim to lose control of her vehicle, because there was no “hit” to the victim’s automobile.

It is therefore clear that for UM coverage to apply in Wisconsin there must be a physical contact with the insured victim’s vehicle, and the contact must be one caused in some way by a fleeing or uninsured vehicle.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Tractor-Trailer Accidents.

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