Who’s at Fault in a 3-Car Accident? Proving Liability in Rear-End Pile-Ups

Learn how insurance companies decide who’s at fault in multi-car accidents. See how to help your case after the crash and during your recovery.

Establishing fault in a 3-car accident can be difficult. One or more drivers may be at fault, and multiple drivers and passengers may be injured.

Here we provide some insight into how insurance companies determine liability in multi-car accidents, and how their decisions can impact your injury claim.

Knowing what insurance companies look for will help you gather key evidence in support of your claims against all the at-fault drivers.

Determining Who’s at Fault in a 3-Car Crash

The more vehicles in the accident, the harder it is to figure out who caused the crash. Insurance adjusters will review police reports, speak with their insured, and question claimants about what happened. The insurance company may even hire special investigators to look into the crash.

Adjusters want to know if the police arrested or ticketed any driver for:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Possession of drugs or open containers of alcohol
  • Moving violations like failure to yield, following too closely, or reckless driving
  • Driving without a valid license or insurance

Investigators hired by the insurance company will conduct their own interviews of the drivers, passengers, and other witnesses.

Private accident investigators will dig into any available information on the drivers in a major crash, including arrest records, driving records, and cell phone records.

The investigator will typically visit the accident scene to take photographs, measure skid marks, and evaluate the road condition and surrounding area.

Mitigation of Fault Due to Special Circumstances

In some cases, police officers recognize mitigating circumstances at the scene. Although most 3-car collisions are a result of someone’s negligence, there are occasions when no one is to blame.

Severe weather conditions are a common mitigating factor that might result in none of the drivers being found liable. In this case, each driver must rely on their own insurance coverage to pay for their injuries and vehicle damage.

For example, imagine multiple drivers are proceeding cautiously on a hilly road in a snowstorm when one hits an ice patch. Their car slides into the car in front, which then crashes into another and so on. Or imagine a driver loses consciousness from a heart attack or stroke. In these cases, it’s difficult to assess fault.

While mitigating circumstances may save a driver who started the pile-up from a traffic citation, accident victims may still be able to collect compensation from the driver’s insurance company.

Evidence of Liability in Multi-Car Accidents

The insurance company’s accident investigator will gather as much information as possible before making their determination of liability.

Professional accident investigators consider the weather and road conditions, the police report, witness reports, photographic evidence, and whatever information they can uncover about the drivers involved in the crash.

The insurance adjuster will use the investigator’s findings, combined with state car accident and personal injury laws, to determine liability for each of the drivers in the crash.

Don’t rely on the insurance company to make a fair determination of liability after a multi-vehicle accident. Keep in mind that insurance companies are more interested in their bottom line, meaning they are looking for reasons to deny or reduce accident claims.

6 Steps for Gathering Evidence at the Scene

If you suddenly find yourself in a multi-vehicle accident, what you do and say immediately after the accident is critical to the success of your later claims for compensation.

1. Stay in Your Car and Call 911: Unless your vehicle is on fire or poses some other threat, you and your passengers should remain in the car with your safety belts on until help arrives. In many situations, you’re at risk of further injury if you get out of your vehicle.

2. Watch What You Say: Don’t apologize to anyone, and don’t make excuses for what happened. Anything you say can be used against you. That includes saying that you’re “okay” or “fine” when you may have injuries.

3. Accept Medical Help: Let paramedics on the scene look you over. Cooperate if they want to take you to the hospital. Refusing medical attention at the scene gives the insurance company an excuse to deny your injury claim.

4. Take Photos and Video: You can begin to take photographs and videos of the scene while still in your car. When it’s safe to get out, take as many pictures as you safely can of the accident scene, the position of the vehicles, skid marks, damage to the vehicles, and people involved in the crash.

5. Get the Drivers’ Information: Try to collect driver contact information, license place numbers, and insurance information for every vehicle involved in the accident. You may have to wait for the police report to identify all the drivers when there are several cars, dangerous conditions, or fatalities involved.

6. Request Witness Statements: Independent witness statements are best, but statements from other accident victims can also help. Any person who saw how your vehicle became involved in the accident could be a valuable witness on your behalf. Ask for the person’s name and contact information.

Continue Collecting Evidence While You Recover

Take Notes: As soon as possible, write down everything you remember about the circumstances leading to the accident, what happened to you and your car, and what others did and said after the crash. Your description of what happened, what other drivers or passengers said after the crash, and how they behaved can help establish liability.

Request the Police Report: Police reports usually include the investigating officer’s description and diagram of the accident, names, and insurance information for each driver, and the officer’s opinion of fault. The report will also list any traffic citations issued. Request a copy of the police report from the department’s website or call their office.

Get Medical Records and Bills: Request copies of your medical records and bills after you have recovered from the accident. Also, gather your receipts for medications and other out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Liability Complications in Multi-Car Claims

It’s hard enough to pursue compensation for injuries when you know who hit you and liability is clear. Unfortunately, liability for chain-reaction car accidents is rarely clear and uncontested.

More Than One Driver May Be at Fault

There are two ways that shared blame might complicate your claim:

  • One or more drivers may blame you and file claims with your insurance company, or file a lawsuit against you.
  • Your insurance claim against another driver may be denied, or your compensation reduced because the adjuster argues that you share blame for the crash.

Depending on the state where the accident occurred, your compensation may be reduced or eliminated according to your percentage of fault.

Your insurer won’t help you if the other driver’s insurance company is trying to reduce or deny your claim based on shared negligence.

Allocating Fault for Shared Liability

Liability can spread among several vehicles, including yours.

Let’s say you were waiting behind a car at a red light. Suddenly you’re rear-ended by a distracted motorist who didn’t even brake before slamming into your car. The force of impact shoved your vehicle into the back-end of the car in front of you. You can bet the driver of the front car will blame both you and the driver of the car that hit you.

The driver who rear-ended you might say your brake lights weren’t on, so they couldn’t see you before it was too late. The person you hit might argue that you were tailgating and stopped too close behind them.

Because most states follow a modified comparative negligence rule, injured drivers can still pursue a claim against the other drivers’ insurance company, even if they’re partially to blame for the accident.

Your auto insurance company has a duty to defend you against claims and lawsuits filed by other drivers or their passengers in an accident. If you are sued, your insurance company will usually pay for a defense attorney to handle your case and represent you in court.

When several insurance companies have different ideas about how much fault should be assigned to each party, it sometimes takes a lawsuit by one or more injured victims to resolve their claims.

Why You Need an Attorney for Multi-Car Accidents

You can’t rely on insurance companies to look out for your best interests. They will hire investigators to determine liability for multi-car accidents, but the investigators are essentially being paid to find evidence that someone else is to blame.

A good personal injury attorney will look out for you, not anyone else. Your attorney may start by filing claims against all the other drivers’ insurance companies, and will conduct their own investigation to determine who is at fault.

Your attorney can take sworn witness statements, file subpoenas to discover all available insurance policies and coverage limits for each driver, run asset checks on the at-fault parties, and much more.

Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation and represent injured clients on a contingency fee basis. In other words, your attorney won’t get paid unless your claim is settled or wins in court.

There’s too much at stake to handle a multi-car pileup on your own. Schedule a free case evaluation and find out what a skilled car accident attorney can do for you.

Common Causes of Multi-Vehicle Pileups

When the claims start rolling in after a multiple-car traffic accident, the affected insurance companies will begin investigating.

Driver negligence is the primary cause of most auto accidents. Common driver mistakes can trigger a multi-vehicle collision and factor into determining liability (responsibility) for victims’ injuries.

Common causes of multi-car accidents include:

  • Speeding: At high speed, failing to stop in time can set off a chain reaction of rear-end accidents, pushing one car into the rear of another.
  • Aggressive Driving: When a speeding driver is weaving in and out of traffic, other drivers may be forced to brake when they’ve been cut off, setting the stage for a series of rear-end collisions.
  • Falling Asleep: When a driver falls asleep, even for a split second, there’s no one driving the car. It only takes a second for a driverless car to drift into another lane, careen off the road, or plow into the car in front.
  • Drugs and Alcohol: Driving Under the Influence (DUI) includes the use of prescription and illicit drugs as well as alcohol. Drivers under the influence of any substance that impairs their judgment or reaction time will be liable for accidents they’ve caused.
  • Cell Phones: No list of causes for multi-vehicle accidents is complete without including cell phones. Talking, texting, taking photos, and checking email are some of the leading causes of rear-end collisions. Distracted drivers are dangerous drivers.
  • Other Distractions: Children needing attention, reading maps, eating, putting on makeup, and general boredom or inattention can also lead to accidents.
  • Sudden Hazards: Spilled oil, rocks that fell from mountainsides, mudslides, and deer or other animals in the road can set off a chain reaction leading to a multi-vehicle accident. After the first car makes a sudden stop, remaining drivers may be liable for not paying attention, or failing to leave enough room to stop safely.

Intersections Are Hot Spots for Multi-Vehicle Collisions

Multi-vehicle collisions aren’t restricted to high-speed thoroughfares. Many occur locally at slower speeds. Intersections are hot spots for accidents involving three or more vehicles.

Case Example: Woman Fatally Injured in 3-Car Accident 

On August 16, 2021, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Henry James Harrod, Jr. was driving a Chrysler sedan when he crashed into the rear of a BMW at an intersection.

Harrod’s Chrysler then struck a Toyota driven by 28-year-old Irma Gabriel Saravia Martinez, who had been turning right at the intersection. Ms. Martinez was rushed to the nearest trauma center, where she died from her injuries.

According to the preliminary police investigation, speed appears to have been a factor in the fatal crash.

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 >>