Compensation in Multi-Car Accidents: Claims Against Multiple Drivers

Who pays when you’re injured in a multi-vehicle accident? Here’s what you need to know to boost your compensation after a pile-up collision.

Traffic accidents most often involve two cars, but many people are injured in multi-car pileups involving three or more vehicles.

Multi-vehicle accidents can result in extremely high insurance payouts. Serious injuries and fatalities are common.

There are often multiple victims who file claims with several insurance companies under both personal and commercial policies.

Whether you’re involved in a slow-moving 3-car rear-end accident in town, or a huge pile-up on the interstate, you’ll need to know how to get full compensation for your property damage, physical injuries, and pain and suffering.

Injury Compensation in Multi-Car Accidents

Auto accidents involving three or more vehicles can cause a range of wounds, from minor bumps and bruises to catastrophic injuries.

When a vehicle is heavy enough or moving fast enough to push a stopped car into another vehicle, the occupants of the “sandwiched” car experience the effects of two impacts. Or, in accidents involving multiple vehicles, several cars can hit one car from different directions.

You can probably negotiate compensation on your own for relatively minor car accident injuries, if you can show who is at fault.

Severe or fatal injuries are high-dollar claims that should be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney. Insurance adjusters will resist paying high-dollar claims in any situation. Serious injury claims from a multi-vehicle accident are even more difficult to settle out of court.

Common injuries from multi-vehicle accidents include:

  • Whiplash injuries to the neck and shoulders, typically from a rear-end impact
  • Permanent scarring caused by burns or lacerations to the face or body
  • Fractures ranging from simple breaks in an arm or leg, to complicated fractures like a crushed pelvis
  • Internal injuries, like a ruptured spleen
  • Head injuries like a fractured skull
  • Traumatic brain injuries, from mild concussions to permanent brain damage

All it takes is one motorist who’s momentarily distracted or speeding to set off a deadly chain reaction accident. Multi-car crashes are notoriously more dangerous than two-car crashes.

Where to File Your Personal Injury Claim

If you’re in a multi-vehicle crash, notify your auto insurance company, no matter who you think should pay for your damages.

Injured drivers in a no-fault insurance state must first look to the med-pay or personal injury protection(PIP) coverage on their own policy.

File a personal injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company if your medical costs are higher than your no-fault coverage, or you live in a traditional fault state.

If you’re not sure who was at fault, you can file your claim against all the other drivers’ insurance companies. If more than one driver was insured by the same company, you must file separate insurance claims against each driver’s policy.

In turn, the insurance companies may help by doing some of the investigative work for you. But don’t get too comfortable – the insurance company is not looking out for you.

Don’t be surprised if one of the other driver’s insurers argues that you bear some contributory or comparative negligence for the accident. You may need to hire a car accident attorney to push back against allegations of shared blame, or your compensation may be reduced or denied.

Settling a Multi-Vehicle Injury Claim

To protect themselves, insurance companies may produce evidence of their insured’s lack of fault. However, they will likely fight it out among themselves. You can wait to see where the chips (evidence) fall and go from there.

Watch out for the statute of limitations. Each state has a deadline for settling an injury claim or filing a lawsuit. If you miss the deadline, you forfeit your claim.

If you have fully recovered from minor injuries, and aren’t looking to get much more than reimbursement for your medical expenses and a few days’ lost wages, you stand a better chance of settling your claim quickly.

Example: Settling a Minor 3-Car Accident Claim with the Most At-Fault Driver

Sharon was driving her SUV on a clear and dry Monday afternoon when she stopped for a red light. Bob was stopped behind her, waiting for the same traffic signal in his compact sedan. Suddenly, a full-sized pickup truck violently rear-ended Bob’s car, pushing his vehicle forward into the back of Sharon’s SUV.

Sharon and Bob were both injured in the rear-end collision. At the scene, police cited Sam, the pickup truck driver, for speeding and failing to keep a proper lookout.

Sharon used her collision coverage to fix her car, leaving it to her own insurance company to seek reimbursement from the other insurers involved.

Sharon put both Sam’s and Bob’s insurance companies on notice of her intent to file an injury claim. She recovered quickly from a mild whiplash-type neck strain. Her medical bills and lost wages amounted to $1,500.

Because the police report showed that Sam had been ticketed, Sharon made her compensation demand to his insurance company for $4,000. She reasoned that Sam’s distracted driving triggered the chain-reaction collision that caused her injuries.

Sam’s insurance company could have shifted some of the blame for Sharon’s injuries to Bob, by arguing that Bob was stopped too close behind Sharon. However, because her injury claim was relatively small, Sam’s insurance company settled Sharon’s claim for $3,000.

Even though Sharon’s injury claim was for a relatively small amount, if there had been passengers in her or Bob’s car, resulting in multiple injury claims, Sam’s insurance company might not have been able to simply pay her claim. 

What if There’s Not Enough Insurance Money?

Each state mandates a minimum amount of auto coverage drivers must carry. Even when drivers who are liable for multi-vehicle collisions have high insurance limits (like commercial trucking companies), there might not be enough to cover severe injuries to multiple victims.

Auto Insurance Coverage Limits

Auto policies generally have two limits for bodily injury coverage: A per-person limit and a per accident limit, such as $50,000/$100,000.

The per-person limit applies to each person injured in an accident. If the at-fault driver has a per-person limit of $50,000, the most you can get from their insurance company for your injuries and pain and suffering is $50,000.

The per-accident limit applies when more than one person is injured in the same crash. If the per-accident limit is $100,000, and three people are injured, the $100,000 will be divided among the three injured people, up to the per-person limit for each person.

Figuring out who’s at fault for multi-vehicle accidents can be complicated. Furthermore, when a driver is liable for injuries to several people, there might not be enough insurance money to go around.

Using the $50,000/$100,000 example, the at-fault driver only has $100,000 of coverage to go around. What if three or four people are seriously injured, and each of the injured people has more than $50,000 in damages? There isn’t enough money to go around.

The insurance company won’t take responsibility for deciding how much of the available funds to allot to each claimant. In most states, the company will file an interpleader action, a type of lawsuit to force the injured parties to fight it out in court.

It will be up to you and your attorney to convince the court your costs were reasonable and necessary, and why you deserve a bigger portion of the insurance money than anyone else.

Unfortunately, many multi-car collisions have to go through court before anyone gets paid. Because these accidents often involve high-dollar claims for serious injuries or death, without clear evidence of fault most insurance companies refuse to settle.

Your best bet for quick compensation after a multi-car accident with a comparative fault dispute may be to file an Underinsured Motorist claim with your own insurance company.

But if you or a family member were severely injured, you’ll need a skilled personal injury attorney to get the compensation you deserve. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free consultation for accident victims. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to get an expert case evaluation.

Multi-Car Accident Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>