Collisions involving multiple vehicles and numerous collisions happen all the time in Texas, whether due to dangerous driving conditions like icy roads or because of a driver hitting the brakes a moment too late and causing a chain reaction crash. A driver at the front of a line of cars could feel two, three, or several more impacts before traffic further down the road has enough time to react to the crash and avoid danger.
In December 2018, part of I-37 closed for several hours after heavy fog contributed to more than a 30-car pile-up outside of San Antonio. The collisions caused fires and at least two people required emergency medical care.
Multi-car pile-up crashes not only can lead to serious injuries, but they also tend to result in highly complex claims. Keep reading to learn five important points about multi-vehicle crashes that could affect the outcome of an injury claim.
1. Multiple Drivers Can Be Liable for Damages
The difficulty of determining fault in a multi-vehicle accident comes from the fact that the crash and following impacts might have resulted from more than one driver’s negligence.
Suppose you’re slowing down to stop at a red light during a thunderstorm when a car suddenly cuts in front of you from another lane and comes to an abrupt stop at the intersection. You don’t have enough time to stop on the slick road, and you hit the rear fender of the car that cut you off. At the same time, the pickup truck behind you was following too closely and rear-ends you.
The car in front is most likely at fault in this scenario, as they probably didn’t check to see if anyone was in your lane before moving over. Meanwhile, the truck behind you may also bear some fault since they were following at an unsafe distance.
While it’s clear that the driver who cut you off started the chain of events that led to the pile-up, they may not be the only individual at fault in this scenario. In theory, any number of people could be at fault in a multi-vehicle wreck. So how do attorneys and courts determine who is ultimately responsible after a pile-up crash?
2. Order of Impact Matters
When the police arrive at the scene of a multi-vehicle crash, they’ll speak with each driver involved and ask them what happened, including how many impacts they felt. Let’s look at another example to illustrate why the number of impacts matters.
Suppose you (Car A) come to a safe, complete stop at a red light. From behind, you hear the screech of tires and then a loud crunch that comes with a jarring impact. The driver of a small car behind you (Car B) got distracted and didn’t stop in time.
Unfortunately, a third vehicle (Car C) was following the tail lights of the car that hit you, and they didn’t expect the abrupt stop. Car C doesn’t stop in time either and hits the car behind you. From the chain reaction, you feel a second jolt of impact. This time, the impact sends you far enough into the intersection that you clip a fourth car (Car D) that was crossing your path while turning left.
In cases like this, the order of impact can be very important. Car B initially hit you, causing Car C to crash as well. However, because the impact of Car C came before you hit Car D, that collision caused you to get pushed into the intersection, where the last impact occurred. Therefore, because the second collision directly caused the final impact between your car and Car D, you should not carry any liability in this scenario.
3. How to Determine Fault
Now that we know multiple drivers can be at fault and understand how the order of impacts plays a role in deciding which car caused which collision, we can start to determine who is at fault. To varying degrees, this can decide which driver’s insurance pays for damages.
In the example above, Car B carries some fault because they should have stopped in time and not run into the rear of your vehicle. But are they 100% at fault? What about Car C? Were they driving at a safe distance behind Car B, or did their carelessness create the additional collision with Car D in the intersection? And if Car C carries some fault, are they more or less responsible than Car B? Is responsibility split 50-50, or is it something like 25-75?
Often, the initial determination of fault depends on the police report. However, the police officers who respond to an emergency aren’t experts at reconstructing crashes. Instead, they rely heavily on eyewitness testimony, which is frequently wrong.
To uncover the real causes behind a crash, experienced attorneys often work with professional accident reconstructionists who use computer modeling and other cutting-edge techniques to re-create a complex collision and find out exactly why it occurred. In many cases, the attorney’s investigation and collaboration with experts yields a picture of fault that’s very different from the findings in the police report.
“To uncover the real causes behind a crash, experienced attorneys often work with professional accident reconstructionists who use computer modeling and other cutting-edge techniques to re-create a complex collision and find out exactly why it occurred.”
4. Contributory Negligence and Comparative Fault
Once the court determines the percentage of liability for all drivers involved in a multi-vehicle crash, it will apply the laws that govern negligence in your state, which is why it’s essential to understand these laws. Negligence laws vary widely between states, and the same case could result in very different outcomes in different states.
Four states and the District of Columbia follow a controversial rule called pure contributory negligence. Under this theory, if a victim is even 1% responsible for a collision, they cannot recover any compensation for their injuries.
Other states, including Texas, apply a rule for negligence cases known as comparative fault. Under comparative fault, a victim can recover a percentage of total damages that’s inverse to the amount of fault they bear for their injuries. So, under comparative fault, a victim who is 25 percent responsible for causing a crash can recover up to 75 percent of the resulting damages.
Even among comparative fault states, different states apply different versions of the rule. Many states have additional rules that say if a victim is 50 percent responsible or more (sometimes 51 percent) for their injuries, they lose any right to compensation. Texas follows the 51 percent rule – this means that if the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault for contributing to the injuries, then they are barred from recovery and they lose the case.
Texas also applies a rule for negligence called joint and several liability, which says that if there are multiple defendants in an injury lawsuit, one defendant can be held responsible for 100 percent of the total damages if they were 51% or more at fault for the incident.
5. Underinsured Motorists
Another complexity in pile-up collisions comes from the fact that competing insurance agencies may be involved in these cases, each looking to protect their interests and bottom line. And when a crash involves multiple drivers, it’s also that much more likely that at least one of them is uninsured or underinsured, which can make it difficult for any victims to recover compensation.
To address injuries caused by uninsured and underinsured drivers, many insurance agencies offer uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage that drivers can purchase to supplement their regular auto insurance. Often, purchasing additional UM/UIM coverage creates a relatively small increase in insurance premiums, which makes it a smart purchase considering the peace of mind and financial support it can provide after a crash.
Crosley Law: Advocates for Pile-Up Crash Victims in Texas
If you or someone you love has suffered injuries because of a pile-up accident or other collision caused by someone else’s negligent behavior, the team at Crosley Law is here to help. We offer free initial consultations where we can discuss the facts of your case and offer you candid legal advice, all at no cost to you. If we can take on your case, you won’t have to pay a thing unless we achieve a settlement or win your case in court.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.