After any motor vehicle accident, there may be conflict over who is responsible. It’s possible that each driver is partly responsible. There may also be other responsible parties, such as the manufacturer of a defective vehicle part or the entity responsible for road maintenance where the collision took place. When there are three or more vehicles involved, untangling liability can be even more complicated. In some cases, a multi-vehicle accident will involve a large number of cars and trucks.
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Ohio Multi-Vehicle Collisions
Multi-car crashes most often occur on interstates and other roads where traffic is moving quickly and may be congested. Weather often, though not always, plays a role.
Smaller multi-vehicle collisions are probably more common than you realize. Here are just a few recent Ohio crashes involving multiple vehicles:
- In June, a 31-year-old Dayton woman was killed in a four-vehicle collision.
- In June, a five-car pileup rolled at least one vehicle and temporarily closed a local road in Boardman.
- In June, a four-vehicle crash involving a Ryder truck in Garfield Heights sent one man to the hospital.
- In May, a deer crossing I-90 near Bratenahl triggered a six-car crash.
- In March, an 11-vehicle pileup just across the Pennsylvania state line shut down parts of I-80–white-out conditions played a role in the collision.
Then, there are the massive pile-ups that probably spring to mind when you hear “multi-vehicle accident,” like in November of 2019 when Ohio saw a 50-car pile-up on I-80 and a 75 to 95 vehicle crash on State Road 8 on the same day. White-out conditions also contributed to those accidents.
Can a Multi-Vehicle Accident Be Nobody’s Fault?
Some of the examples above probably make it sound like multi-vehicle accidents are something that “just happens,” with no one really to blame. It’s true that it’s not a driver’s fault when a deer jumps into traffic, and sudden white-out conditions may cause a collision no matter how careful a driver is. But, in most cases, at least one driver’s negligence plays a role. Often, more than one driver bears responsibility.
Common Causes and Contributing Factors in Multi-Car Accidents
Here are some of the ways negligent drivers contribute to multi-vehicle accidents–particularly to the creation of a chain reaction that turns a two-car collision into a pile-up:
- A distracted driver doesn’t notice an accident up ahead in time to stop, change lanes, or otherwise avoid colliding with the other vehicles;
- A driver who is following too closely is unable to stop or swerve in time to avoid joining the pile-up–often, this has a domino effect, with other drivers who were also following too close crashing into the line; or
- A driver who is speeding or driving too fast for conditions may be unable to evade collision when a crash happens in front of them–this is particularly common when visibility is low and the road is slippery with rain, ice, or snow
Similarly, a driver who is fatigued, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or operating a vehicle with a medical condition that impacts response time can set off a chain reaction on the road, or miss an opportunity to break the chain.
These are just a few examples of the types of negligence that can set off a multi-car pile-up or turn a single-vehicle or two-vehicle collision into a multi-vehicle crash. The more drivers involved, the more complicated it can be to establish fault.
Shared Responsibility in Multi-Car Pile-ups
Here’s an illustration of how even a small multi-vehicle accident can be complicated:
Driver A is distracted by a text message and fails to notice in time that the light up ahead has turned red. When Driver A belatedly notices that there’s another car (Driver B) stopped at the red light, it’s too late to avoid rear-ending the stopped car. Driver B’s car is propelled into the intersection, where Driver C plows into Driver B. Driver C had the green light, but was speeding.
Driver B is seriously injured. Driver C sustains moderate injuries.
Liability for Driver B’s Injuries
Driver A will generally be found liable for Driver B’s injuries. It was A’s distracted driving that caused the initial contact with Driver B’s vehicle and pushed the car into oncoming traffic.
But, Driver A may not be solely responsible. Driver C was also negligent–C was speeding at the time of the accident. Perhaps, if C had been traveling at a safe speed, they could have avoided colliding with B when the vehicle was propelled into the intersection.
An expert tip from Doug Mann
Unless the case is settled, it will be up to the jury to determine what percentage of the blame is attributable to each driver. If B suffered $200,000 in damages and the jury finds that A was 75% responsible, C was 25% responsible, and B bore no responsibility for their own injuries, then A will be liable for $150,000 (75% of $200,000) and C liable for $50,000 (25% of $200,000).
You can see how much more complicated this analysis might be if there were additional vehicles involved. We’ve also assumed here that Driver B was blameless, but that won’t always be the case–even a driver who is propelled into another car may share responsibility if that happened because the driver stopped in the wrong place, was following too close, or in some other way contributed to the accident.
Liability for Driver C’s Injuries
Driver A will generally also be found at least partially responsible for Driver C’s injuries. Without Driver A’s negligence in rear-ending Driver B, Driver C would not have been involved in a collision.
But, it’s unlikely that A will be found entirely responsible. As in the analysis above, C will likely share responsibility.
Ohio law works a bit differently when the injured person shares responsibility. C can still recover damages from A in proportion to A’s responsibility–but only if C was not more than 50% responsible. If C is found to have been more than half at fault, they won’t be able to recover any damages.
Non-Driver Liability in Multi-Car Pile-ups
Usually, one or more drivers will be wholly or partly responsible for a multi-vehicle accident. But, in some cases, third parties may share responsibility. Some possible examples include:
- The entity responsible for design or maintenance of the roadway, if faulty design contributed to the collision–for instance, if an unmarked blind curve meant drivers didn’t have adequate warning of the crash up ahead, or notice that they should slow down and exercise caution;
- A road maintenance crew or the governmental entity contracting for the maintenance if drivers weren’t provided adequate warning and direction, leading to a pile-up where the road narrowed or there were obstacles in a lane; or
- The manufacturer of a faulty vehicle component that contributed to the accident, such as an automatic braking system engaging without reason on the interstate and triggering a chain or rear-end collisions.
Seeking Compensation after a Multi-Vehicle Accident
If you’ve been injured in a multi-vehicle accident, determining who is or may be responsible for your injuries is a critical first step toward pursuing compensation. It’s important to identify all possible responsible parties, because leaving someone out can mean you don’t get full compensation.
The best way to determine who may be liable is to talk with an experienced Ohio motor vehicle accident lawyer as soon as possible after your accident. You can schedule a free consultation with one of our seasoned car accident lawyers right now by calling 937-222-2222 or filling out the contact form on this page.
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