Who Is Responsible in a Multi-Vehicle Car Accident?

By Peter DePaolis

Multiple vehicle crashes, sometimes referred to as chain-reaction accidents, occur when two cars strike one another, then a third trailing vehicle strikes one of the first two and more follow. In the end, you have a series of rear-end collisions and liability becomes murky.

There is a common myth out there that the last vehicle in the pile-up is automatically at-fault for the entire accident. Today, we will dispel this rumor and set the record straight so that everyone is aware of how liability works in these unique cases, and why the tailing vehicle is not always the one responsible.

Understanding Your Rights and Liabilities in Chain Reaction Accident in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland

Most importantly, you should always get the contact information for every vehicle involved, even if there are ten of them. You want all of the contact information, insurance information, and identifying information about each car. Also, get the information of any witnesses that saw the crash, because they might help piece together the puzzle later.

How Chain Reaction Accidents Happen

Multiple vehicle accidents happen in a variety of ways, and understanding the type that you are involved in may help identify which parties are at fault for the crash itself.

Here are a few examples of common types of chain reaction collisions:

  • Drivers 1 into 2, into 3: In this case, Driver 2 and Driver 3 have stopped at the intersection. Driver 1 rear-ends Driver 2, pushing Driver 2’s vehicle into Driver 3.
  • Driver 4 into Driver 3 into Driver 2 into Driver 1: In this scenario, Driver 2 is tailing Driver 1. Driver 1 stops without any warning, which forces Driver 2 to rear-end their vehicle. Next, Driver 3 is coming in too fast, and rear-ends Driver 2’s vehicle. This pile-up makes it impossible for Driver 4 to complete a stop, causing them to rear-end Driver 3.

Who Is at Fault in a Chain Reaction Crash?

It is not always the last car in the pile-up. Instead, the rule of thumb is that it is the driver who caused the initial crash. For a chain reaction crash, there is always the first collision with multiple collisions following after. Therefore, the party that created that initial accident would be at fault for the entire series of crashes. Other times, various parties may be found at fault.

Some examples of liability in a chain reaction accident include:

  • The leading vehicle failed to use brake lights, had no brake lights, or did not signal, forcing another vehicle to rear-end them. In this case, the driver who did not use lights or signals would be at fault for the chain.
  • The trailing vehicle was following too closely, which resulted in a rear-end collision. In this case, this vehicle is at fault, even if they end up in the middle of the pile-up.
  • One driver was speeding, which made them unable to stop and they created a collision.
  • One driver was too distracted when coming to a stop sign and did not see the vehicle in front of them, forcing them to rear-end that driver and other drivers to follow.

When Two or More Parties Are at Fault

Let’s say that Driver 1 rear-ends Driver 2 for tailing too close. In that case, Driver 1 is responsible for that accident. Driver 3 comes along, distracted by his phone and texting a friend. He is not paying attention to the road; therefore, he rear-ends Driver 1’s vehicle, adding to the pileup. Now, because he was not paying attention and was distracted, Driver 3 is responsible for the damages of the rear of Driver 1’s vehicle and for the damage or injuries from Driver 2’s vehicle.

As you can see, when more parties are possibly at fault, the problems only pile up further. After all, if the vehicle in the middle is partially at fault partially and also a victim, how is compensation awarded and who is more at fault than the other?

Establishing Fault in a Multi-Vehicle Accident

Whether it is a single party at fault or multiple parties, police reports and investigations will play a crucial role in portioning out fault, especially if numerous parties end up being to blame.

In cases like these, evidence that might help prove which party started the chain reaction include:

  • Witness statements
  • Skid marks and vehicle damage at the scene
  • Police reports
  • Traffic violations and citations
  • Vehicle onboard technology

When Multiple Parties Are At-Fault, Contributory Negligence Might Apply

In cases with multiple cars, the jury will usually look at the evidence and assign a portion of fault to each party that was considered partially to blame for the accident. Under contributory negligence rules, the amount of fault given to the plaintiff would reduce their compensation. Therefore, if a victim was awarded $100,000 in compensation but the jury found them 30 percent at-fault for the accident as well, then they would reduce compensation by $30,000; leaving the victim with $70,000.

This allows for someone to receive compensation, even though they might have been partially at fault for the second accident in the chain.

In other cases, the car that caused the accident could be at fault for the entire chain reaction. However, this is rare. Usually, for a chain reaction to occur, tailing vehicles would be following too close and unable to stop, which means they violated their duty as a motorist.

If, however, one driver is at fault for the entire chain, they are responsible for not only their property damage and injuries but the injuries and damage to the other vehicles. This can be an insurmountable amount of compensation – especially if you have two or more cars and multiple passengers involved.

Involved in a Chain Reaction Crash? You Need a Lawyer, Now

Please do not assume that the law will figure it out. Multiple vehicle accidents tend to lead to much finger-pointing, and insurance companies use it as an opportunity to put the blame on those who are innocent. After all, the more responsibility placed on you, the less insurance companies have to pay out.

To protect yourself, you need an attorney with experience in accident claims like these.

Talk with an attorney from Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP, now. We offer free, no-obligation consultations at any of our three locations. Schedule your consult by calling an office near you or by contacting us online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.