Multi-vehicle accidents aren’t that common, but you’ve probably heard of or even witnessed a few.
When they occur, they usually get a lot of media coverage. That’s because these types of accidents often come with extreme repercussions.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 16,695 multiple-vehicle accidents in 2017, a 1% increase from the previous year. We often witness such events in Florida as well, where the number of average crashes per day is estimated at 1,098 collisions.
Besides the physical and emotional toll a chain reaction accident may cause to the victims, this type of incidents are difficult for the authorities too. Establishing liability, in this case, is somewhat complicated. It’s a lot easier to determine who is responsible under normal circumstances than in a chain reaction accident. In most cases, one driver is at fault, so they’ll have to pay for damages or face charges. But when multiple drivers are involved, how can you tell for sure which party should be held accountable? It’s a complicated matter.
What Is a Chain-Reaction Accident?
A chain reaction (or multiple-vehicle) crash involves more than two cars in an accident, or series of accidents, to be exact. A domino effect takes place, where one piece of the puzzle triggers the incident, and then everything around it falls as a result.
Here are some possible examples of chain-reaction accidents:
- One driver stops the vehicle unexpectedly, and the driver behind them collides into the stopped vehicle. Another driver behind them also fails to react in time, and is also part of the collision;
- A driver switches into a lane of stopped traffic without slowing down as much as they should have. As such, they hit one vehicle so forcefully that it goes right into the one in front of it;
- A truck on the highway loses its cargo, and the driver behind the truck was driving too close behind it and crashes right into the truck. The cars coming from behind also don’t have enough time to react, and either enter the collision area or even the lost cargo.
- Improper weather conditions like icy roads or heavy rain can also cause a chain reaction collision.
These hypothetical situations can become all too real in a fraction of a second. The biggest difficulty in these cases is proving liability, though a good car accident attorney could successfully make a case on your behalf.
Liability: A Difficult Battle
In our experience, determining liability in a chain reaction accident can be very difficult, but not impossible. In most instances, the driver who caused the first crash of the chain is responsible for damages, but that’s only if you can prove that no other driver shares responsibility. In truth, it’s far more likely to have several liable parties in these accidents than just one.
The investigators have to analyze the facts and circumstances carefully to understand what really happened. It may be effortless to determine the person who started the chain reaction, but when you look closely at all the little details of the chain event, transgressions of the other drivers may come to light:
- Not keeping a safe driving distance from the car in front
- Driving while distracted (using a smartphone, not looking in front, or even talking to a passenger);
- Driving with a broken light, in which case the driver behind could not see any signals and know they had to slow down or pull over;
- Not respecting road signs, etc.
Moreover, there are situations where none of the people involved in the crash are to blame. Accidents occurring during poor weather conditions, for instance, don’t have a direct party causing the accident. It’s also possible that one driver could be experiencing an unexpected medical emergency (like a heart attack), in which case Florida law says they cannot be held accountable for causing an accident, because they were medically impaired at the time.
Some matters point liability in the direction of the government. For instance, if a missing or hidden traffic sign caused the accident, then the public authority in charge of replacing it is accountable.
Since there are multiple types of possible liable parties in a chain reaction accident, we’ll try to cover each situation in the following paragraphs:
1. When Another Driver Is Responsible
If you are the victim of a chain-reaction accident and it is yet unclear who the at-fault party is, then you’ll have to begin an investigation with the help of your car accident lawyer. The inquiry can allow you to seek additional compensation to cover medical costs, or even pay for damages.
You’ll typically need to gather proof that demonstrates guilt:
- Evidence from the scene (pictures of skid marks, broken poles, other damage on the road caused by the accident);
- A witness list;
- Police reports;
- Traffic records from the other drivers;
- Additional information your lawyer deems relevant to your case.
Once you gather the evidence, you can file a claim for compensation, most likely through the insurance company of the at-fault party. Florida law requires all drivers to carry these policies. If you can’t reach a mutual conclusion amicably, then you can take the at-fault party to court.
2. When the Government Is Liable
If the collision wasn’t the fault of another driver, but a consequence by governmental oversight, then you can seek compensation from the institution responsible. However, know that suing or demanding payment from a government institution is an entirely different process than getting compensation from an individual.
Florida Statutes section 768.28 actually waivers sovereign immunity and allows residents to sue the state for certain torts. The statute allows people to sue the state if:
- People are injured because of state negligence;
- Claimant losses can be compensated financially;
- The circumstances of a case show that the negligent party would be liable as a private party, so therefore liability extends to the state as well.
As such, if a person is injured in a car accident caused by negligence or a wrongful act or omission by the state, then the victim is allowed to sue.
But, the statute also imposes a few limitations:
- Unless they do so intentionally, government employees cannot be held personally liable for harm. The claim must be filed against the institution that employs them.
- Damages against Florida institutions are limited to $200,000, or $300,00 if there are multiple state entities sued;
- The state reserves the right to appeal case resolution;
- Punitive damages or interest before the final judgment will not be awarded.
If you want to file a claim against a Florida public entity, then you have to write a notice for the claim within three years from the date of the accident. Moreover, you cannot file a lawsuit until 180 days have passed, during which an official investigation took place. The exception is if your claim was denied. If that’s the case, then you are free to file the suit even if the investigation has not run its course.
The process here is extensive and involves quite a bit of formalities, so it’s best to get the help of a lawyer. One mistake on a form could get your entire claim denied.
3. When Nobody Is Liable
So, what can you do if nobody is at fault for the chain reaction accident, like in the case of poor weather conditions. Of course, other factors can come into play to prove guilt. For example, if a person having a heart attack while driving caused the accident, state law says they cannot be liable. However, if the person behind them was speeding, which made the impact more forceful, pulling other drivers in the pile-up, then liability can be placed on the speeding driver.
But let’s assume no such driver exists, and the unfortunate collision was caused by something out of everyone’s hands. What can you do?
Well, the only thing you can do is file an insurance claim with your insurance company to get compensated. Florida law requires you to carry auto insurance for these very moments, after all.
In the grand scheme of things, multi-vehicle accidents might not be as prevalent as your regular fender-bender.
However, when they do happen, these collisions can often have lasting effects. From extreme property damage to life lasting afflictions, victims of multiple-vehicle crashes can expect to face some tough times ahead.
Cases involving chain-reaction car accidents can be complicated to solve, and they often require the expertise of an experienced lawyer to get victims the compensation they deserve. If you are the victim of a car accident involving multiple cars, contact a car accident lawyer to help.
We’re always here to guide you. Write to us today and get a case review, or contact our office to book an appointment. With our many years of legal experience, we can make sure you are appropriately compensated for your damages, be they material or health-related.