It can be challenging enough to determine who is at fault in a two-vehicle accident. But it’s even more complicated to determine liability in a chain reaction collision. Multiple drivers may be at fault, to varying degrees. For example, one driver may be deemed 50 percent at fault, another 30 percent and another 20 percent. Further complicating matters, bad weather and poor road conditions are frequently culprits in chain reaction collisions.
Here is what you need to consider if you have been involved in a multi-car pile-up.
Causes and liability issues in chain reaction accidents
In a typical multiple-vehicle collision, a distracted or impaired driver fails to notice the cars ahead slowing down and crashes into one, causing multiple rear-end collisions. If all the vehicles were driving safely except the first one, it may be easy to determine fault.
But what if the second driver was tailgating the vehicle in front of him? It’s a basic rule of driving that motorists must keep a safe distance between their car and the car in front of them. This is necessary to give the driver time to brake in case of unexpected situations, such as road hazards or another car abruptly slamming its brakes. A driver who does not put a safe distance between their car and the car ahead and rear ends that car will in most cases be deemed negligent.
Let’s look at another example. A car is heading down a freeway behind a pickup truck loaded with furniture. Suddenly a piece of furniture falls out, the driver in the car slams on her brakes, but the cars behind her cannot stop in time, causing a pile-up. It’s possible she will not be deemed at fault. But what if she was speeding or making an illegal lane change at the time? And what if the driver behind her could have stopped in time, but he was sending a text message? You can quickly see how chain reaction accidents can get legally complicated.
Here are some other common issues at play in multiple-vehicle pile-ups:
Bad weather: Fog, snow, dust storms, heavy rain and hail can reduce visibility to zero and produce slippery roads. But just because the weather is bad doesn’t mean drivers can blame the elements if they get into an accident. According to the DMV, in low visibility situations, drivers must slow down significantly. If there is no visibility, drivers must pull off the road, turn on their hazard lights, and step away from the vehicle and the roadway to keep safe in case of a chain reaction collision. If drivers fail to take the proper precautions in bad weather, they can be deemed liable for an accident.
Driving while distracted: Texting, talking on the phone or otherwise using a cell phone are some of the most common causes of multi-car pile-ups. Drivers can also become distracted by their passenger(s), reading a map, eating, applying makeup, looking at another accident, or falling asleep. If it can be proved a driver was distracted, he or she will likely be deemed at least partially liable for the accident.
Driving under the influence: Obviously, some of the most severe accidents occur due to the influence of alcohol or drugs.
What to do after a chain reaction accident
The first thing you should do after a chain reaction accident is to contact the police. If you are not injured, check whether your passenger or any of the drivers have been injured and perform first aid where necessary.
You should also ensure you exchange insurance information with all the drivers involved in the incident, and obtain witness information if there are witnesses. Try to collect as much information from the scene of the accident as possible by making short notes and taking photos of the crash site and the damaged vehicles.
When the police arrive, narrate your side of the story clearly. If you have been injured or your car has been damaged, you should contact your insurance provider immediately for compensation purposes.
Review our detailed article on the steps to take after any accident.
Determining fault in a chain reaction accident
When you file a lawsuit or an insurance claim against a motorist following a chain reaction collision, you will need to prove another driver (or drivers) was liable on the basis of negligence.
Whatever causes a chain reaction collision, some of the sources that can help allocate blame include:
• Accounts by eyewitnesses
• Police reports regarding the accident, including any findings on whether any of the drivers violated a traffic law
• Vehicle damage
• Evidence such as vehicle debris and skid marks at the scene of the crash
Depending on which state you live in, more than one driver may be deemed liable for a percentage of the accident. Arizona, for example, operates follows the doctrine of pure comparative comparative negligence, meaning that drivers can be compensated based on the percentages they and the other driver were at fault. Read our article about what happens when in various states when more than one driver is at fault.
Because of the complex nature of chain reaction collisions, it is wise to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible to get advice on how to proceed with your claim. Be sure to do this before you speak with other drivers’ insurance companies.
The Lamber-Goodnow Legal Team offers free consultations to people involved in car accidents. We only get paid when and if you get paid.