Last updated on July 18th, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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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