Any car crash can be tragic, with the potential for serious or even fatal injuries. When more than two motor vehicles are involved, the possibility of catastrophic or life-changing injuries is even higher. In these situations, it is often difficult to determine who was at fault — and who is responsible for paying for others’ damages.
For example, in February 2020, a multi-car crash occurred on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Cheverly, Maryland. One person died in the crash. The crash also caused major traffic delays for hours — and police are still trying to determine who caused the collision.
Proving fault in a traffic collision involving multiple vehicles can be challenging, but it is essential in order to ensure that victims are able to recover for their injuries. Multi-vehicle car crashes can happen in any number of ways. Frequently, these types of crashes start when one vehicle rear-ends another, setting off a chain reaction.
In many cases, multi-vehicle collisions are a result of one driver following another too closely. This practice is common in the greater Washington D.C. area, where drivers have to battle through heavy traffic on a daily basis. When you follow too closely, it reduces your ability to react to changing circumstances. According to a study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), following too close is responsible for 1.3% of collisions involving driver error.
Many other issues can lead to multi-vehicle crashes. Bad weather, poor lighting, and distracted driving are all possible causes of multi-vehicle crashes. You can avoid the likelihood of being in this type of accident by paying full time and attention while driving and always leaving enough space between your vehicle and the next to stop safely.
Determining Fault in Chain Reaction and Multi-Vehicle Car Wrecks
Figuring out who is responsible for a car crash is always important, as it is the basis for any legal claim or lawsuit that may follow. In a pile-up involving more than two vehicles, figuring out who was to blame can be particularly challenging. However, there are a number of ways your lawyer can determine fault.
For some types of collisions, such as a rear-end collision, the driver in the back is almost always at fault. Drivers are required to be aware of their surroundings and should be able to stop safely if the vehicle in front of a car stops suddenly. If a truck rear-ends a car, and then that car hits another car (and so on), the driver of the truck will almost always be responsible for this type of chain reaction collision.
The specific facts of each case may also help determine who was at fault in a multi-vehicle car crash. Your attorney may examine whether:
- Another driver violated a traffic law;
- Whether one or more drivers were going too fast for road conditions;
- Any drivers were issued citations;
- The road conditions played a role in the crash;
- A driver was turning left at the time of the crash;
- One or more drivers were distracted; or
- A vehicle involved in the crash had any defects.
The position of the vehicles after they came to rest, the location of the crash, information from the police reports, location and extent of vehicle damage, and witness statements can all be used to help determine fault. Your lawyer may also look at video surveillance of the area and even the “black box” data recorders that are present in many vehicles. All of this information is valuable, whether negotiating with an insurer or litigating your claim before the court.
For example, Bob is driving down a busy four-lane street when he glances down at his phone to check an incoming text. In doing so, Bob swerves slightly over the center line; this causes a driver on the other side, Sue, to move into the right lane. Sue’s vehicle slams into a truck in the right lane and drivers in both lanes crash into Sue’s car and the truck.
In this situation, statements from the witnesses, as well as video footage from the surrounding area, may be useful in figuring out that Bob was at fault for this wreck. Even if Bob drives away from the scene, and his identity is never discovered, Sue and the other drivers may be able to access their uninsured motorist coverages in their own insurance policies in order to recover for any losses that they have suffered.
One of the ways that your lawyer will determine fault is through reference to the law in your jurisdiction. In addition to the statutes and regulations that have been enacted by the government, there is also case law. This consists of the decisions made by judges in your jurisdiction. An attorney will analyze case law with similar fact patterns, and use those rulings to make an argument on your behalf. Case law is important, as it demonstrates how courts have applied the law to situations like yours. An attorney will use these past cases as a way of proving to the insurance company — or the jury if the case goes to trial — that you are entitled to compensation for your losses.
How Your Own Partial Fault May Impact Your Recovery
In many jurisdictions — but not in Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia — you can recover for your losses in a car crash even if you were partially at fault. It is particularly important to figure out who caused or even contributed to a crash, because it may impact each person’s ability to recover for their losses.
A comparative or shared fault is a legal concept whereby a driver who is partially to blame for a crash may still be entitled to compensation. Each jurisdiction has its own rules regarding the comparative fault.
In D.C., you cannot recover for your losses in a car crash if you were even slightly at fault for it. This is known as the principle of contributory negligence. In the above example, if a court or jury finds that Sue was driving too fast for the circumstances and could have avoided the crash if she had been driving slower, then she may be barred from recovering anything. On the other hand, if she was driving a normal speed, even if she could have avoided the crash by driving slower, she would not be at fault because her driving didn’t violate the rules of the road.
The same rule is followed in Maryland and Virginia. This means that if an injured person was even a little negligent in contributing to causing a crash, the injured person cannot claim compensation from another party. Because this rule is so harsh, it is vital to work with an experienced personal injury attorney who can thoroughly investigate the collision and make a factual and legal argument for recovery.
For example, an important exception to the “contributory negligence” bar on recovery comes if another driver had what the law calls “the last clear chance” to avoid the collision. In that circumstance, a driver’s contributory fault can be excused.
Another exception occurs in the District of Columbia for people who were on foot or on a bicycle at the time of the crash. There, the “comparative fault” rule applies and their recovery is reduced only by the percentage of blame they have for the injury.
Using case law as well as traffic laws, your lawyer will determine what must be proven for you to obtain a verdict in your favor. Next, it’s time to gather witnesses and evidence to introduce at trial to establish that you were not at fault for the crash. In this way, your lawyer can use their experience and knowledge of the law to help you avoid the strict rules of contributory negligence in a multi-vehicle collision.
Reach Out Today for Help
Anytime that a motor vehicle collision involves more than two cars, figuring out who exactly was to blame can be challenging. Yet determining fault is vital in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, where you may be barred from recovering for your losses if you were even partially responsible for the crash. If you find yourself in this situation, an experienced car accident lawyer can advocate for your right to recovery. Lawsuits are complex, and defendants are in no hurry to accept fault; the experienced attorneys at Patrick Malone & Associates know what to expect, and how to maximize the odds of a successful outcome both in and out of the courtroom.
Patrick Malone & Associates represents victims of single and multi-vehicle car crashes in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. We offer free initial consultations, and never charge a fee unless we recover for you. Call us today at 202-742-1500 or contact us online to schedule an appointment. If you’ve been involved in a multi-vehicle car wreck, a car accident lawyer can help you get the compensation that you deserve for your injuries.