Stuck In The Middle With You: Establishing Liability In Multi-Car Accidents

Posted on: 12 March 2015

Determining who's liable in an accident involving only two cars tends to be fairly straightforward. However, things become considerably more complex when you're involved in a 5-car pileup. Here are the different issues you will encounter when establishing liability in a multi-car accident and getting compensated for your losses.

Type of Accident

The type of accident and where you're positioned in it can mean the difference between collecting money for medical expenses and being on the receiving end of insurance claims and lawsuits. There are two primary accident scenarios you may run into and each has their own issues with establishing liability.

Rear-End Chain Reaction

This is the most common type of multi-car accident that occurs on the roadways. In this scenario, one driver crashes into the vehicle in front of them and pushes it forward with such force that it crashes into the vehicle in front of it and so on and so forth. The first vehicle that started the chain reaction will likely share the brunt of the liability. However, the interior cars may also be held liable if they were violating traffic laws at the time of the accident.

For example, drivers are expected to operate their vehicles in a safe manner, which includes following the two-second rule when traveling behind other cars and trucks. This rule helps reduce the risk of a collision by ensuring there is enough distance between the cars to allow the driver to respond to what's happening in front of him or her and stop or slow down. If the interior car was following too closely behind the car in front of it, the driver could be held partially liable for some of the damage caused.

Front-End Chain Reaction

A less common type of multi-car accident is one that begins with the vehicle in front of the chain. For one reason or another, the starter vehicle will stop suddenly and without warning. With no time to react properly, the vehicle traveling behind the person will crash into the stopped car and so on until other drivers realize an accident occurred and take evasive action.

This type of multi-car accident may present the most trouble for you depending on the reason the front vehicle stopped suddenly. For instance, if the front car stopped to avoid hitting a child in the road, then the driver may escape liability based on the Sudden Emergency Doctrine. This doctrine releases people of liability when they are presented with a sudden, unavoidable situation and must take immediate action. Meanwhile you may be held liable for your part in the accident because you were driving too closely behind or not paying attention to the road.

Most other multi-car accidents will be some version of the previous two. For instance, one car rear-ends the vehicle in front of it while the vehicle behind it is unable to stop and crashes into the both of them. Another type also seen is when one car T-bones another vehicle and pushes it into a third (or worse, an intersection).

Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence

In all of these scenarios, investigators will look at the initial cause of the accident and what other people were doing at the time the incident occurred to help them establish who is at fault for what. When all is said and done, each person may be assigned a percentage of liability that will affect their ability to collect compensation for damages.

For instance, in states that use comparative negligence, the amount of liability a person contributes to the accident will be deducted from any award the court gives them. If the person contributed 10 percent to the accident, then they can only collect 90 percent of the money owed. However, in states that use contributory negligence, a person's ability to collect compensation may be barred if they are found to be even 1 percent liable for the accident.

This is why it's important to hire a car accident attorney as soon as possible after getting into a multi-car accident for more info. The lawyer can ask the right questions to piece together the sequence of events that led to the accident and help ensure you get the compensation you're entitled to.