Sorting Through Liability in a Multi-Car Pileup

Published on March 4, 2021, by Matthew Sharp

Car Accident

Sorting Through Liability in a Multi-Car Pileup

Determining liability in a multi-car pileup may take teams of investigators several days or even weeks. Since investigators have competing interests, they usually take longer to reach a consensus. Their main goal in these major crashes is to save their insurance companies money by attempting to transfer liability from their insureds to other drivers.  As a result, many multi-car accident victims turn to the court systems to help them navigate these big collisions.

Common Causes of Multi-Car Accidents

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that more than two million multiple vehicle accidents happen annually in the U.S. for a wide array of reasons. It can be something as simple as two vehicles colliding in a rear-end crash that initiates a chain reaction pileup of vehicles in a line. It can also be something major like a multi-car pileup that occurs on an interstate during an early morning fog. Other factors that can cause multi-car accidents include:

  • Drivers switching lanes on roadways without looking at their blind spots
  • Impaired drivers moving at dangerous speeds
  • Drivers dozing behind the wheel on highways
  • Drivers escaping arrest, racing, or otherwise driving carelessly
  • Harsh weather conditions, such as fog, hail, and sleet, interfere with other drivers’ visibility
  • Drivers blinded by light

In many instances, there is a collision that can be identified as the initiating event. An impaired driver driving into approaching traffic or a driver losing control while escaping arrest are examples of an initiating event. However, in other instances where one wreck blocks the highway and other vehicles move in and become part of the vehicle pileup, determining liability is a difficult task.

How Does the Law Deal with a Multi-Car Pileup?

How the law handles multiple car collisions is hinged on whether a driver is in a contributory fault state or a comparative negligence state. In a comparative negligence state like Nevada, a driver may recover damages even if he or she is partly liable. The driver’s percentage of liability will, however, determine his or her ability to recover.

In a pure contributory fault state, a driver cannot recover damages from anyone if he or she holds any degree of liability. As such, the driver must have been fault-free in the accident or he or she will be prohibited from recovering any damages. A car accident lawyer can review a driver’s case to determine whether he or she is eligible for compensation based on the state in which the accident occurred.

Making a Negligent Sudden Stop  

A negligent sudden stop may act to prevent a driver from recovering in a multiple-vehicle crash. If the driver is rear-ended and he or she slams on the brakes and triggers a chain reaction or multi-vehicle collision, the driver would be found to be the reckless party who initiated the multi-car pileup or collision.

If there is a long interval between the original crash and the time another driver collides, his or her collision may be treated as a new and independent crash for which he or she will be liable for failing to maintain a proper lookout. The simple explanation for this is that the collision must be the immediate cause and not a far-off cause of the injury suffered.

Hitting a Car Pileup

When a driver hits cars piled up on the highway, knowing the interval between collisions can help determine liability. If it was instant, he or she will be deemed to be part of the primary chain of events. The driver may still be partly liable for his or her failure to perform sufficient evasive action.

Can Multiple Parties Be at Fault in a Multi-Car Pileup?

More than one party could be liable fora single accident. This may happen where one car caused the chain of events that led to two vehicles colliding, but a third car worsened the accident because the driver was intoxicated and had put the pedal to the metal.  

In most cases, law enforcement officers and accident reconstruction professionals rely on the explanations from those involved in the collision to determine the party(s) to blame. They may ask the drivers the number of bumps they felt. If the first vehicle in a three-vehicle pileup experienced two bumps, then chances are high that the third vehicle is also to blame for that crash.

The Role of an Accident Lawyer after a Multi-Car Pileup

Insurance companies and courts are responsible for sorting out liability when a multi-vehicle pileup happens. Consequently, anyone involved in this kind of accident should work with a car accident lawyer. The lawyer will pull together and preserve the required evidence, work closely with an accident reconstruction officer to obtain the specifics of the crash, and represent the accident victim in court effectively.