Determining Liability in a Multiple-Vehicle Accident

multiple vehicle accident

There are 263 million cars on the road in the United States and a whopping 29 million cars in California. With numbers like this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that car accidents are a common occurrence.

Getting into a car accident is stressful enough when only one other car is involved. It’s even more stressful went there are multiple cars involved and it’s not clear who caused it or what happened.

When accidents happen like this, insurance companies and courts need to determine liability. Want to learn more about this process? Read on to learn about determining liability in a multiple-vehicle accident.

What Is a Multiple-Vehicle Accident?

A multiple-vehicle accident occurs when three or more vehicles are involved in a collision. This includes vehicles like motorcycles and tractor-trailers.

When more than two vehicles are involved in an accident, it is important to determine who contributed to the accident and to what extent. For example, if a car rear-ends someone, causing that car to rear-end another car, then the court or insurance company must determine what percentage of fault cars one and two bear.

Some Key Terms to Know

Any time you have a case that involves personal injury, there will be some important terms that come into play. These terms, when demonstrated by evidence, establish that a wrong has occurred and that the plaintiff should be compensated.

Duty of Care

The first important term you should know is “duty of care.” Every time someone gets behind the wheel, they have a duty to exercise a reasonable amount of care to prevent any type of harm from occurring.

This duty includes obeying traffic laws and driving safely and attentively.


Negligence occurs when a person breaches their duty of care and causes harm. This can happen if someone fails to stop at a stop sign or drives above the speed limit. The harm caused doesn’t have to be intentional, it just needs to be proven that the person knew or should have known that their actions could cause harm.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause is a term used to demonstrate that the harm done was the direct result of the person’s negligent actions. If someone runs a stop sign and hits another vehicle, then running the stop sign is the proximate cause of the accident.

Likewise, if someone runs a stop sign and another driver rear-ends another car, then running the stop sign was not the proximate cause of the damage.

Comparative Negligence

Different states have different ways to apportion liability in multi-car accidents. California and Washington both use comparative negligence to determine liability.

In comparative negligence, a court will examine the evidence available in order to determine which portion of the responsibility belongs to each involved party. If a party is assigned a portion of the responsibility, then they are only allowed to recover an amount for which they were not responsible.

For example, if a court finds that you are responsible for 15% of the accident, and the amount of your damages is $10,000, then you can only recover $8,500.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Other states, like Colorado, employ modified comparative negligence to determine the amount of each involved party’s award. In these cases, a jury decides each party’s portion of fault. Like in comparative negligence states, the award is reduced by the proportion of responsibility.

The difference in modified comparative negligence states is that plaintiffs are not allowed to recover any damages at all if their share of responsibility is greater than 50 percent.

What Kind of Evidence Is Examined?

There are many types of evidence that are considered in multiple-vehicle accidents. The first thing courts will look at is the report from accident investigators and the police. They’ll compile photos of the scene and the conditions present at the time of the accident.

Insurance adjusters utilize these reports to determine each party’s liability. That said, courts do not always agree with the findings of insurance adjusters. Courts will also utilize depositions, witness testimony, and a number of other factors to make their determination.

Common Mitigating and Complicating Factors

Courts and insurance adjusters will consider a number of additional factors that either mitigate or enhance a person’s liability for an accident.

Road Conditions and Weather

Road conditions at the time of the accident can have a huge impact on liability. For example, if you’re driving and get caught in a whiteout blizzard, then you’re less able to see the road ahead.

On the other hand, if you hit a patch of black ice while speeding, then you may be more liable for the harm caused because you didn’t take reasonable safety measures to avoid causing an accident.

Irresponsible Driving

Certain conditions can cause someone, who would otherwise only bear a certain percentage of fault, to be responsible for an accident. These factors include driving under the influence, cell phone use, or driving aggressively.

What Should You Do If You’re in an Accident?

It’s important to know exactly what steps you should take if you’re in an accident.

First, you should make an effort to collect all available evidence. This can include taking photographs of the scene, collecting witness contact information, and observing road and weather conditions.

You should also write down your recollection of how the accident occurred as soon as possible. Accidents are traumatic and can impair how you store memories. Writing a detailed account right away can help preserve what really happened.

Finally, remember to refrain from making any statements about injuries or about fault. Many injuries take time to manifest, and investigators can use those statements against you.

Dealing With the Impact of a Multiple-Vehicle Accident?

Getting into a multiple-vehicle accident is a traumatic event. Thankfully, courts and insurance companies have a number of factors that are considered to determine who is at fault and from whom you can seek compensation.

As with any accident, be sure to document the accident thoroughly as soon as possible and retain an attorney to represent your interests.

Do you need assistance dealing with a recent car accident? You’ve come to the right place. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.

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