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How to Determine Fault When Multiple Vehicles Are Involved in a Crash

Fri 31 May, 2024 / by / Personal Injury

Imagine that you are rear-ended by a car that is following too closely. You might assume that the driver behind you is at fault, but then consider learning that the driver was rear-ended by another driver who was texting while driving. In this case, two drivers contributed to the car accident. Who is responsible for your damage? 

Most vehicle accidents are caused by one driver. However, there are instances where a crash involves multiple drivers, and it can be the case that more than one is at fault. 

Determining fault in a multi-vehicle crash can be a very complex process. It involves analyzing various factors to establish liability for damages. The process also requires a comprehensive investigation and careful analysis of all available evidence. Although all accidents are different, there are some steps and key considerations involved in determining fault that are fairly universal.

How Do Multi-Vehicle Accidents Commonly Occur?

Multi-car accidents can occur in various ways. Here are some of the most common scenarios:

  1. Chain Reaction Accidents: These involve multiple vehicles colliding in a pile-up or series of collisions, typically occurring on busy highways or during rush hour traffic.
  2. Head-On Collisions: These happen when two vehicles traveling in opposite directions collide, causing catastrophic damage due to the combined force. These crashes can result in vehicles ending up in multiple lanes of traffic, increasing the risk of involving other cars.
  3. Rear-End Collisions: These happen when one vehicle collides with the back of the vehicle in front of it, frequently resulting in multi-car pileups in heavy traffic.
  4. Side-Impact Collisions: These occur when the front end of one vehicle collides with the side of another vehicle, often at intersections when one vehicle fails to yield or runs a red light. These accidents can easily lead to multi-vehicle crashes if there are multiple vehicles navigating the intersection.

What Does “At Fault” Mean?

Before getting into the specifics of determining fault, it is important to discuss what “fault” refers to. In the context of vehicle accidents, fault refers to determining which party (or parties) is responsible for causing the car crash. Once fault is determined, then the person at fault will be liable for damages, medical expenses, and insurance claims.

Who Is At Fault When Multiple Cars Are Involved In An Accident?

It can be challenging to decide who is at fault when only two cars are involved in an accident. Things become more complicated when there are multiple cars involved. However, these are the ways that fault is ultimately determined.

Evidence is Gathered

The investigator will collect and look at a variety of evidence to determine who is at fault. This includes police reports, eyewitness accounts, photographs/videos, and surveillance footage.

Police Reports: The official police report is obtained. This often contains details about the accident scene, witness statements, and sometimes the officer’s opinion on who is at fault.

Eyewitness Accounts: Statements from witnesses who saw the crash will be collected. Their perspectives can provide valuable information about the sequence of events.

Photographs and Videos: An investigator will review anything that documents the accident scene, vehicle positions, damages, skid marks, traffic signals, and road conditions. Dashcam footage from involved or nearby vehicles can be particularly useful.

Surveillance Footage: Another thing to consider is CCTV footage from nearby businesses or traffic cameras. This might offer a different perspective or angle, providing insight into what happened.

Traffic Laws and Rules Are Analyzed

Depending on where the accident happened (jurisdiction and location), there will be relevant traffic laws and regulations. Those relevant traffic laws and regulations will be reviewed in order to understand which rules might have been violated by each driver. This can include speed limits, right-of-way rules, and traffic signal compliance.

The Sequence of Events is Determined 

The accident is reconstructed to understand the order in which the collisions occurred. This helps identify primary and secondary impacts, which can clarify who initiated the crash and how it escalated.

Driver Behavior is Evaluated

It can be challenging to determine the actions of each driver involved. Certain determinations–such as whether a driver was speeding, driving distracted, following too closely, or making illegal maneuvers–will be made. Any evidence of negligence or recklessness can be critical in assigning fault.

Accident Reconstruction Experts Might Be Called In

When there are complex cases, accident reconstruction experts can be hired to analyze evidence and recreate the crash dynamics. Their expertise can provide a clearer picture of how the accident unfolded.

 Insurance Claims and Statements Can Be Reviewed 

Insurance claims that are filed by each driver and their statements about the crash should be evaluated. Any inconsistencies or admissions can be pivotal in determining fault.

Pre-existing Conditions With The Vehicles Are Evaluated

You should assess if any vehicle had pre-existing issues (e.g., brake failure) that might have contributed to the crash. Mechanical inspections may be necessary.

I Figured Out Who Is At Fault–And I’m Partially To Blame

You might wonder what will happen if you are partially to blame for the multi-vehicle accident. If you are involved in an accident, comparative fault allows you to claim damages. However, if you are partially responsible for your injury, the amount of compensation you receive will be proportionally reduced.

In Illinois, modified comparative fault is used to determine damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Under modified comparative fault, your damages are reduced based on your percentage of fault. If you are found to be equally or more at fault for the accident or incident, you will not receive compensation. To collect damages, your fault must be 50% or less.

For example, if you are awarded $10,000 but are found to be 20% at fault, your award will be reduced by 20%, resulting in you receiving only $8,000 instead of $10,000.

Hire a Seasoned Personal Injury Lawyer

In cases of significant disputes or severe injuries, consulting with a personal injury attorney can help you navigate the complexities of multi-vehicle accident claims and litigation. An experienced personal injury attorney can provide guidance to you about multi-vehicle collisions and aid in collecting evidence, negotiating with insurers, and representing your interests in court if that is necessary.