Who Is Financially Liable in a Multi-Vehicle Crash?
Car accidents lead to different types of economic loss for those involved. In addition to property damage to vehicles, those with injuries amass medical treatment costs and sometimes lose a significant portion of their household income because they cannot work for weeks or months. Determining who is financially liable sometimes poses challenges for law enforcement, lawyers, and insurance companies when two vehicles crash, but the task can become especially difficult when multiple vehicles collide in an accident.
Three or more vehicles in a crash mean three or more drivers and their insurance companies are involved in a claim, making multi-vehicle accident injury claims more complex. If you have suffered injuries in a traffic accident that involved three or more vehicles, then contact an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible.
Below we provide information about common types of multi-car accidents, the standards for proving negligence, evidence relevant parties rely on to build their case against other drivers, and how courts divide financial liability in multi-vehicle crashes.
Types of Crashes that Involve Multiple Vehicles
A wide range of traffic collisions lead to multi-car accidents, but some occur more often than others. They include:
Rear-end accidents sometimes start a chain reaction that ends up involving several vehicles. One motorist strikes the rear of another car and pushes it into the vehicle in front of them, and so on. Depending on the speed and situation of the initial strike, the chain reaction from one rear-end collision can move in one or both directions.
It’s common for head-on collisions to block one or more lanes of traffic. In busy areas with heavy traffic, nearby motorists cannot always react quickly and avoid a crash. Head-on collisions can lead to dangerous, and sometimes fatal, multi-vehicle pileups.
T-bone collisions typically occur at intersections, where crossing lanes of traffic pose a danger of accidents. When other traffic is around, motorists must react quickly to avoid being part of the crash. The speed at which a T-bone accident occurs can impact whether other vehicles are involved in a crash. High speed provides enough force for the striking vehicle to push a car into oncoming traffic and lead to a multi-car accident
Determining Liability in a Multi-car Accident
Determining who is financially responsible for a traffic accident can get complicated. One driver might have financial responsibility for damages in a multi-car accident, but multiple drivers can often share liability depending on the circumstances.
To sort out who owes who, lawyers must determine:
- Every driver who had a legal duty of care towards other motorists on the road;
- Which driver(s) breached a duty of care in operating a vehicle;
- Which breaches of duties of care led to which injuries and losses.
Proving that a driver caused an accident is arguably the most challenging aspect of proving liability in a multi-vehicle crash. Multiple drivers can contribute to the cause of an accident and each driver may seek to shift the blame to someone else. Some motorists may even lie to avoid their share of financial liability. Attorneys and insurance carriers sometimes employ accident reconstruction experts to understand exactly how a multi-car collision happened.
Evidence to Determine Financial Liability
Lawyers, insurance companies, and experts rely upon several types of evidence to determine financial liability in a multi-vehicle crash, including:
Photographic evidence by itself does not determine financial liability, but it supports other evidence and helps investigators place fault on the right driver(s).
Some examples include photos of:
- Skid marks from heavy braking before the collision
- Road hazards that caused a loss of control such as dead animals or defects
- Empty beer bottles or cans that indicate possible alcohol use
- Leaked fluids from vehicles which might lead investigators to find mechanical failure played a part in the collision
A video provides the same type of evidence for a multi-vehicle accident that a photo does, but the visual is typically better. Videos can come from dashboard cameras, traffic safety cameras, or an eyewitness’s cell phone. Some businesses also have security cameras that may capture traffic accidents.
Damage to Vehicles
Different combinations of speed and direction create different types of vehicle damage. Law enforcement and investigators examine vehicle damage to give them clues about how the accident occurred and whether statements from those involved are accurate.
When vehicles collide, paint transfers between vehicles. Investigators can often tell who is responsible after a multi-vehicle crash by examining the patterns of paint transfer between vehicles. This method is especially helpful when multi-car crashes occur at high speeds and drivers suffer severe or fatal injuries, so they can’t tell law enforcement what happened.
When a multi-car collision occurs in a busy area, other drivers or bystanders probably witnessed the accident. Witnesses do not always have all the facts of a car accident, but their statements help law enforcement and lawyers piece together what happened, especially when combined with other evidence.
Data From an EDR
Most new vehicles come standard with an electronic data recorder (EDR), which is similar to an aircraft’s black box. EDRs record a wide range of data to help determine who is responsible in a multi-vehicle accident. Examples include the status of the vehicle systems before the accident, driver inputs, seatbelt use, and airbag deployment.
Shared Liability in Multi-vehicle Collisions
Multiple drivers sometimes share liability in a multi-vehicle collision. When figuring out who pays for what, lawyers, insurance companies, and courts assign a percentage portion of fault to each driver involved in a collision. The percentage comes from the examination of the evidence above and from proving that each responsible party has a legal liability to those injured. Each driver is responsible for damages based on their percentage of fault and pays accordingly in a settlement or jury award.
To learn more about your legal rights after suffering injuries in a multi-vehicle crash, contact an experienced motor vehicle accident injury lawyer for a free consultation.