How is Fault Determined in a Multi-Vehicle Accident?

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philadelphia car accident lawyerUnfortunately, car accidents are more common than one might think, especially in a Northern state like Pennsylvania, where winter conditions can make driving particularly unsafe. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, in 2020, there were 104,475 reportable crashes which injured 61,248 people. Based on 2019 census numbers, this comes out to roughly one in every 57 people being involved in an accident. 54,522 of these accidents involved multiple vehicles.

If you or a loved one was injured in a multi-vehicle accident, we express our deepest condolences, as we know that these types of accidents can be particularly devastating. In the face of such a catastrophe, hiring a lawyer that you know you can trust can make this difficult time a little bit easier. Our team at Munley Law has over 60 years of experience, and are experts in car accident litigation. We have won many of our clients multi-million settlement outcomes. We encourage you to reach out to us today for your free consultation, and look forward to winning you an outcome you deserve.

Single-Party Crashes vs Two-Party Crashes

Typically, car accidents involve either one or two parties. Single-party crashes may occur when a driver swerves off the road, and either loses control of the vehicle due to an unseen obstacle (like black ice), or collides with an object. In these types of crashes, if the driver broke any motorist laws (like texting and driving for example), the driver may face legal consequences. Additionally, if their actions resulted in any damages, they will likely be financially responsible to cover them. In a single-party crash, it is likely that the fault will sit entirely with the driver. 

Car AccidentTwo-party crashes can occur when one driver collides with another. One or both drivers may face legal consequences and may be responsible for covering both their own and the other party’s damages. In a two-party crash, liability is determined by fault. In most states, fault is straightforward: the driver who is determined to be responsible for the crash will be accountable for covering all damages associated with the crash. Pennsylvania, however, is a no-fault state. This means that fault is assessed in a more nuanced way than in most other “fault” states. 

Furthermore, Pennsylvania is a comparative negligence jurisdiction, which means that fault is determined by degree. That is, both parties can be determined to be partially at fault for the accident. For example, if one vehicle is driving recklessly, and a second driver changes lanes without checking their mirrors, the resultant crash may implicate both drivers with fault. However, as long as you are less than 51% responsible for the crash, you can expect to receive some compensation from the other driver. The amount you are entitled to in damages, though, will be adjusted to reflect your part in the crash. For more information on your financial liability in single-party and two-party crashes, please review chapter 17 from the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Common Types of Multi-Vehicle Accidents

Compared to single-party or two-party crashes, multi-party accidents are less common, more dangerous, and much more difficult to determine fault for. There are a number of ways multi-vehicle accidents can occur. A common type of multi-vehicle accident occurs when one car rear-ends another on a busy street or highway. The first rear-end startles one of the drivers, and they may not be able to react to the crash quickly. This can cause the rear-ended driver to then rear-end the car in front of them. The result is a domino effect where each crash triggers another. This is called a chain reaction crash. These types of crashes can involve up to ten different vehicles. The faster the cars are traveling, the more cars will be involved.

traffic on the highwayAnother common type of multi-vehicle accident is a pile-up. Though less frequent than chain reaction multi-vehicle accidents, pile-up accidents are much more disastrous. Unlike chain reaction crashes, which often only happen in the linear direction, pile-up accidents have motion in all three planes. They can be caused by swerves, lateral lane changes, or even spin-outs due to an obstacle in the road. Additionally, when these crashes involve semi-trucks, the results can be extreme. A truck could jackknife and spin out to block oncoming traffic. When this occurs, other drivers simply cannot react quickly enough to avoid a collision. Similarly, because semi-trucks often haul trailers, the trailer could detach from the body of the truck, and drift freely into oncoming traffic.

Common Causes of Multi-Vehicle Accidents

Like any accident, multi-vehicle crashes can be caused by any number of different variables. One factor that could result in a crash could be if the original driver were exhibiting negligence. Legally, negligence is defined as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent injury. On the road, this could mean driving under the influence, not taking the care to check your mirrors before changing lanes, texting while driving, or not performing mandatory safety and maintenance checks to your vehicle before getting on the road.

Outside of negligence, a crash could be caused by external factors, such as unseen obstacles in the road. Some examples of this could be potholes, black ice, or even wildlife. 

Finally, crashes could be caused by medical issues. If the driver suffers a seizure, heart-attack, or other catastrophic illnesses, they likely will lose control of the vehicle. 

Determining Fault in Multi-Vehicle Accidents

Now that we’ve reviewed how multi-vehicle accidents can occur, it’s easy to see that determining fault in these types of accidents is much more difficult than in single-party or two-party collisions. Initially, the driver who at first causes the accident will likely be at fault. However, as the investigation proceeds, it might be found that other parties bear partial responsibility as well. To illustrate this, consider the following example. Let’s say one driver is driving recklessly and rear-ends another car in front of him, resulting in a chain reaction crash. Clearly this driver will be at fault. However, if the second driver was found to be texting at the time of the crash, they will bear responsibility for any subsequent crashes that they caused. 

I Was Involved in a Multi-Vehicle Accident. Now what?

If you were involved in a multi-vehicle accident, contact an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as you possibly can. More so than single-party or two-party crashes, multi-vehicle accidents are complicated enough to warrant legal representation. It is imperative that you contact a lawyer quickly, so they can work alongside law enforcement to gather evidence for your case.

Why Munley Law

Our team at Munley Law has dedicated their careers to truck and car accident litigation. As such, our hard work in the field has earned us national recognition. Many of our partners have made the Best Lawyers in America list every year since 1993. Our partners are also members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have all won settlements above the million dollar mark. Finally, our partners are members of the National Trial Lawyers Association, composed of the top 100 trial lawyers from each state. We look forward to using our expertise to represent you to the best of our abilities. 

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