Its not as simple as looking for the car with the most damage to determine who is at fault in a multi car accident.  Ultimately, fault must be determined on a case by case basis.  But there are some general principles that will help.  To start with you have to look at the individual drivers’ actions and the type of multi car accident that occurs.

There are many different types of multi car accidents.  The most common types of multi car accidents involve rear end accidents, head-on collisions, Intersection crashes, and lane changes.  You will learn about all of them in this article.

WHAT IS A MULTIPLE CAR ACCIDENT?

A multiple car accident, often called a multi car accident, happens when more than one car, truck, or motorcycle is involved in an accident.  So whether it’s a 3 car accident, a 4 car accident, or there are more vehicles involved really doesn’t matter.  Its still a multiple car accident.

WHO IS AT FAULT IN A MULTI CAR REAR END ACCIDENT?

The most common type of multi car accident is the multi car rear end accident. It is often referred to as a multi car pile up because the vehicles end up piling up behind each other.  Other times it is referred to as a chain reaction car accident because one car runs into the back of another in a chain reaction.

The First Car to Rear End Another Car is Usually at Fault

No matter what you call it, the principles of fault are the same as in the basic rear end car crash.  You have to start with the point that the first car to run into the rear of one of the other vehicles is usually at fault. This is because the rear vehicle has the most opportunity to avoid the crash.  The rear car can see what’s in front, drive at a safe speed, keep a safe distance between the vehicles, and take evasive actions if necessary.  Their failure to do any of these things is usually the cause of the accident.

For example, let’s say the lead vehicle and 3 other cars are able to come to a complete stop without hitting anyone.  Let’s also say the last vehicle does not stop in time, hits the car in front of it, and pushes that car into to all of the other cars.  In this multi car rear end accident, the fourth driver would be at fault for the entire accident.  This is because the first 3 cars were able to come to a complete stop without hitting any other cars while the fourth car could not stop in time.

More Than One Car May be at Fault in a Chain Reaction Accident

Sometimes in a chain reaction accident, more than one driver may be at fault.  To figure out who is at fault you may have to use a negligence principle called comparative negligence to help figure it out.  The law calls this comparative negligence because you have to compare the actions of each driver and assign a percentage of fault to each negligent party.

Example One: Comparative Fault in a Multi Car Pile up

For example, in a four-car crash, the lead car might stop in time but the car directly behind does not stop and hits the lead car.  After the first impact, the third car is able to stop but the fourth rear car does not stop and hits the third car pushing it into the rear of the second car. In this 4 car accident the second car and the fourth car may be comparatively negligent in causing the accident.

Example Two: Comparative Fault in a Multi Car Pile up

The lead car comes to a sudden stop and avoids hitting any other car.

The second car fails to stop in time and runs into the rear of the first car.  The third car fails to stop in time and runs into the back of the second car.  In this 3 car accident, the second and third car will each have fault because each of them were unable to stop in time.  The first car will generally have no fault because it was able to stop without hitting anyone.

Figuring out What Really happened in a Chain Reaction Accident

Sometimes everyone in the accident agrees what happened.  But that is not usually the case.  Most of the time people involved and the witnesses will have slightly different accounts.  To figure out what really happened will take comparing what all the witnesses say to the physical evidence at the scene.  Things to consider are the damage to each vehicle, the number of impacts each driver felt, and the timing of those impacts.  A good car accident attorney can help piece all this information together.

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WHO IS AT FAULT IN A MULTI CAR ACCIDENT WITH A HEAD ON COLLISION?

In a head on collision, the driver that crosses into the other drivers lane is usually at fault.  Common situations where a head on collision causes a multi car accident involves a driver drifting into on coming traffic and hitting a car going the opposite direction.  One of these cars then hits one or more other cars.  In this situation, the car that drifted into on coming traffic would be at fault.

Sometimes, the car that crosses into oncoming traffic is not at fault.  For example, let’s say two cars are traveling in the same direction.  One car sideswipes the other car causing the other car to cross into oncoming traffic and hit another car head on.  In this situation, the car that sideswiped the other car and not the car that crossed into oncoming traffic will be at fault.

WHO IS AT FAULT IN A MULTI CAR INTERSECTION ACCIDENT?

Another common multi car accident scenario involves intersection crashes.  The most common types of intersection collisions involve left turns and or running a traffic control device like a stop sign or red light.

Multi Car Intersection Accident with Left Turn

This situation usually happens when a car is waiting for oncoming traffic to clear before making a left turn across an intersection.  The car makes the left turn and either hits or is hit by a car it crosses in front of.  One of these two cars then collide with another vehicle.  In this situation, which car is at fault will depend on whether or not the car making the left turn had the right of way.  If the car making the left turn had the right of way then the other car will be at fault.  If the car making the left turn did not have the right of way then it will be at fault.  Of course that does not mean the other cars are totally without fault.  Their fault will depend on whether they had an opportunity to avoid the crash or whether they were speeding.

Multi Car Intersection Accident with Running a Traffic Control Device

When a car at an intersection runs a traffic control device like a stop sign or red light, that car will always be at fault for causing a collision.  But Sometimes other cars may also have fault in this type of multi car accident.  For example, let’s say a car runs a red light and t-bones another car crossing in front of it.  Suppose another car is able to stop to avoid the crash but another car does not stop and runs into the rear of the stopped car.  The car that does not stop will also have some fault in causing this second crash.

WHO IS AT FAULT IN A LANE CHANGE MULTI CAR ACCIDENT?

Lets say two cars are traveling in the same direction.  One car changes lanes and clips the car in the other lane causing it to run into other cars.  In this situation, the car that changes lanes is responsible for causing this multi car crash.  Any of the other cars involved may in rare occasions also have some responsibility.  This will depend on whether they had an opportunity to avoid the crash by either driving slower or paying more attention to what was happening.

If you have been injured in an automotive accident, reach out to one of our dedicated car accident lawyers near you now for a free consultation.

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