Multi-vehicle accidents commonly occur when more than two cars hit each other in a chain of rear-end accidents. Typically, they happen because of the force of the first collision: the last in a line of cars (Driver D) rear-ends the second to last car (Driver C), pushing Driver C forward into the third to last car (Driver B), causing Driver B to rear-end the first car (Driver A). These types of accidents are also called "chain reactions."
Although they can be the result of a single driver's negligence, chain reaction accidents may involve instances of carelessness by multiple drivers. Many people, including passengers in any of these cars, may sustain injuries. Therefore, litigating the resulting personal injury lawsuit can be particularly challenging.
If you are involved in a chain reaction accident, it is important to exchange insurance information with all the drivers involved, obtain witness contact information and contact the police to come to the scene and create a police report. You should try to obtain photographs of the scene, including skid marks, vehicle debris and property damage from multiple angles. If you are injured, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible after the accident to make sure that all relevant evidence is immediately identified and documented.
Whose Fault Was the Chain Reaction?
Many parties may be partially at fault for a chain reaction accident.
The biggest issue in chain reaction accidents is who was at fault? Pinpointing causation can be tricky from a factual perspective. In a case where a driver admits to being distracted and being the first car to rear-end another car in a line of cars, it may be appropriate to assign that driver 100% liability. Often, however, there are other issues at play: bad weather, road construction, another car accident, distracted driving, drunk driving, or aggressive driving.
Suppose, for example, Driver D is driving safely when Driver C in front of him comes to a sudden halt on the freeway. There has been no indication of braking because Driver C's brake lights are out. Meanwhile Driver B was drunk and came to a sudden stop after crashing into Driver A because he was tailgating and didn't notice Driver A hitting the brakes due to a construction hazard until it was too late.
Driver A suffers catastrophic injuries because she bears the brunt of Driver B rear-ending her and also the brunt of Driver D rear-ending Driver C and Driver C rear-ending Driver B. Driver A sues Driver B, Driver C, Driver D, and the construction company for negligence. Additionally, in this hypothetical, Driver C may be injured, in which case he may file a cross-complaint against Driver D. If Driver B is also injured, he may file a cross-complaint against Driver C and Driver D.
In most states, the jury will consider all the evidence and assign fault to each defendant. One of these defendants may, in turn, claim that the plaintiff was negligent, and the jury will also assign a percentage of fault to the plaintiff. Whether any of the parties can recover on the complaint in cases of multiple instance of negligence depends on the state where the accident occurs.
In states following the doctrine of comparative negligence, any claimant's recovery will be reduced by his own percentage of fault. Comparative negligence comes in two flavors: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence.
State Negligence Doctrines
Pure comparative negligence = recovery is reduced in proportion to the degree of fault Modified comparative negligence = recovery is reduced in proportion to the degree of fault, but barred completely if fault was 50% or 51% Contributory negligence = recovery is completely barred if any fault is found
In a pure comparative negligence state, Driver D would be able to recover even if the jury finds him 99% responsible for the accident. In some modified comparative negligence states, Driver D will only be able to recover damages if he was less than 50% responsible; in others, Driver D will only be able to recover damages if he was less than 51 % responsible. In either case, Driver D can only recover that percentage of his or her damages for which he was not responsible.
Some states follow the harsh rule of contributory negligence. In those states, a claimant cannot recover any portion of his damages if he was 1% or more at fault for the accident. In those states, only Driver A would be likely to recover, and she could only recover if she was not found even 1% at fault.