Determining who is at fault for a multiple-car accident is complicated. These are car crashes that involve three or more motor vehicles. While some general presumptions exist about who is at fault, an investigation may prove them wrong. Once fault is established, the responsible party will be liable for compensating the victims based on their state’s shared fault law.
What is a multi-vehicle accident?
A multi-vehicle accident is a motor vehicle crash that involves 3 or more vehicles.
With so many parties involved, determining who was at fault or negligent is difficult.
With single-vehicle crashes, there is a strong presumption that the driver of that vehicle was at fault.
With car accidents involving two vehicles, it can be fairly easy to reconstruct what happened.
When there are three or more vehicles, far more can happen or go wrong and contribute to the crash.
What are some general presumptions about who is at fault?
While multi-vehicle crashes are more complicated, there are still a few presumptions that generally work to determine who was at fault in:
- head-on crashes,
- rear-end collisions,
- accidents that happen in intersections, and
- chain-reaction crashes.
These are just presumptions, though. While they generally work, an investigation into the accident can show that they do not apply to a specific wreck. For example, bad weather conditions can make drivers less at fault for the crash.
In head-on collisions involving multiple vehicles, the at-fault driver is generally the one who drove into oncoming traffic.
These are among the most severe accidents that can occur. People can suffer severe or even fatal injuries in these high-speed traffic accidents.
In rear-end collisions, the at-fault driver is presumed to be the one who first struck the vehicle in front of them.
These are often also chain reaction collisions.
For example: Steve does not see the cars lined up at a red light. He rams into the back of Tom’s car. This pushes Tom’s car into the back of Vivian’s.
Accidents in intersections
Multi-vehicle accidents that occur in intersections are more complicated. However, the first vehicle to collide with a vehicle that is legally in the intersection is generally at fault.
Figuring out which vehicle was legally in the intersection can be tricky.
Chain reaction accidents
Multi-vehicle accidents that occur through a chain reaction are presumed to be caused by the driver who initiated the chain reaction.
How can an investigation overcome presumptions in a multi-car pile-up?
A detailed investigation can overcome these presumptions of fault in a multi-vehicle crash. The people responsible for conducting that investigation are:
- police officers,
- insurance companies, and
- personal injury attorneys.
Some examples of the evidence that these investigations can use to challenge a presumption of fault are:
- video footage from security cameras or dashboard cameras (dash cams),
- eyewitness accounts of the crash,
- images of the aftermath of the crash, and
- expert testimony from accident reconstruction professionals.
However, it is not uncommon for these investigations to reach conflicting results. This can happen if they collect different factual evidence or interpret identical evidence differently. This is especially common with investigations conducted by insurance adjusters. Insurance companies have a financial incentive to show that their policyholder was not responsible.
What happens once fault has been established for a multi-car accident?
Those parties can be held liable once there is a fair understanding of who was at fault for the crash. Insurance claims for property damage and personal injuries can be filed against the at-fault party’s insurer, which will then pay out compensation.
However, this process does not always go smoothly. Parties to the crash and their insurers may dispute their role in the accident. These disputes can escalate into a personal injury lawsuit. If that lawsuit is not settled, it can go to trial. If it goes to trial, a jury will hear the evidence and decide who was at fault for the crash. If multiple parties were partially responsible, the jury will state what percentage of fault they contributed.
This escalation of the case into a lawsuit is especially common if:
- policy limits on liability coverage are hit,
- the at-fault driver does not have insurance, or
- victims suffered serious injuries that lead to massive medical bills or a fatality.
If the accident case involved a fatality, the victim’s loved ones can file a wrongful death claim with the legal advice of a car accident attorney.
How do shared fault laws impact a multi-car crash case?
If it appears that multiple parties were partially responsible for the multi-vehicle crash, then the state’s shared fault laws would influence the case’s outcome.
For example: Alex, Bea, and Charles are all driving in the same lane on the road. Without warning or reason, Alex slams on the brakes. Bea, who was tailgating Alex by following him too closely, slams into the back of his vehicle. Charles, who was at a reasonable distance behind Bea but who was driving distracted, slams into the back of Bea’s vehicle.
In these cases, the trial jury would assign a percentage of fault to each at-fault driver. What would happen next would depend on the state’s shared fault law.
A couple of states, such as Virginia, use contributory negligence rules. There, if someone is responsible at all for the accident, even just 1 percent, they cannot recover compensation for their losses.
Nearly all states use comparative negligence, though there are 2 different types of it.
Many states, like California, use pure comparative negligence. There, at-fault drivers can recover compensation for their losses. However, it would be reduced by their percentage of fault.
Other states, like Texas, use modified comparative negligence rules. There, at-fault drivers can also recover compensation for their losses, and it is also reduced by their percentage of fault. However, they cannot recover anything if they are more than half at fault.
Most personal injury cases do not go to trial. However, the jury’s assignment of fault still influences settlement negotiations. Insurance companies and personal injury lawyers try to predict what the jury would do.
How can a personal injury lawyer help?
In a multi-car collision, a car accident lawyer can independently investigate the crash. This can uncover evidence supporting your compensation claim that was not in the police report or disclosed by the insurance companies.
Your car accident lawyer can also:
- help you understand the legal damages that you are likely to be entitled to receive,
- help you make an informed decision about when, or if, to settle your case,
- let you know what your options are, if you want to move forward with a claim,
- find other sources of liability or responsibility for your crash,
- find other sources of compensation to cover your losses,
- advocate on your behalf, and
- file a personal injury lawsuit if no fair settlement offer is made.
The auto accident attorneys at our law firm have found that insurance companies use the complexities of multi-vehicle collisions to make low settlement offers to the injured motorists.
 Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001.