Who pays when you’re injured in a 3-car accident? Here’s what you need to know about liability and compensation after a multi-vehicle collision.
Over 37,000 people are killed, and an additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled by accidents on American roadways each year.¹
Traffic accidents most often involve two cars, but many people are injured in crashes 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 accident in town or a huge pile-up on the interstate, you’ll need to know how to be fully compensated for your property damage, physical injuries, and pain and suffering.
Common Causes of Multi-Car Accidents
Driver error is almost always at play in car accidents, but these contributing factors are especially common in multi-vehicle crashes:
Weather: Bad weather conditions often result in low visibility and slippery roads. Snow, ice, rain, and fog are just some of the conditions that can quickly turn an otherwise safe road into a hazardous one.
Speeding: Driving fast is the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. At high speed, one wrong turn of the wheel can set off a chain reaction of bent steel, broken glass, and serious injuries.
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.
Intoxication: Drivers under the influence aren’t just the stereotypical drunk driver. DUI can include the use of prescription medications and illicit drugs, as well as alcohol.
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 collisions. Distracted drivers are dangerous drivers.
Police Chases: High-speed police chases often cause collisions. Although many cities now restrict police chases to crimes involving serious felonies, there are still instances of officers or suspects losing control of their vehicles during a chase.
Other Distractions: Loud music, conversations with passengers, reading maps, eating, putting on makeup, and general boredom or inattention can also lead to accidents.
Multi-car Crashes Can Be Deadly
All it takes is one driver who’s momentarily distracted to set off a massive chain reaction of cars, trucks, and motorcycles. With thousands of pounds of glass and metal flying about, there’s a high probability of serious injuries and death.
Multi-car crashes are notoriously more dangerous than two-car crashes.
In multi-vehicle accidents, several cars can hit one car from different directions. Each vehicle involved means a greater amount of broken glass, bent steel, and leaking gasoline.
The possibility of fire is always a concern. If passengers are pinned inside their vehicle, there’s a chance they may burn to death or suffocate from lack of oxygen.
Passengers who can get out of their vehicles are often in shock, oblivious to traffic whizzing by only a few feet away. Moreover, because multi-car collisions often result in blocked roadways, it’s difficult for fire and rescue vehicles to get to the scene quickly.
Determining Fault in a Pile-up
When high dollars are at stake, insurance companies often assign trained accident investigators to the claim. Because at-fault drivers will seldom freely admit responsibility, it’s necessary for the investigators to find the underlying cause and the at-fault driver.
It helps to understand a few terms used by insurance companies and attorneys:
Negligence means failure to take reasonable care to prevent harm to others. A driver is negligent when they don’t follow traffic laws or fail to act responsibly. Running a red light is an example of negligence.
Liability means responsibility for what happened. Failure of a driver to stop at a red light makes them liable for injuries to anyone in the car that was broad-sided.
Proximate Cause is when an action directly leads to injuries. The act of running a red light is the proximate cause of the crash and the victim’s injuries.
Multi-Vehicle Accident Investigations
The more vehicles in the accident, the harder it is to figure out who caused the crash. Who was speeding? Who was following too closely? Who was on a cell phone? Were there outside factors? Was there more than one negligent driver?
To determine fault, accident investigators will review police reports and speak with officers who investigated the crash. They 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 conditions of the road and surrounding area.
Local Accidents at Intersections
Multi-vehicle collisions aren’t restricted to high-speed thoroughfares. Many occur locally at slower speeds. Intersections are hot spots for 3-car accidents.
Driver One may be stopped at a red light only to have Driver Two slam into him from behind. The force of impact can push the first car into the intersection, only to have it broadsided by Driver Three who was going through the intersection on a green light.
Liability can spread among several vehicles, including yours. Because most states follow a 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.
Depending on the state where the accident occurred, compensation may be reduced or eliminated according to your percentage of fault.
Learn how comparative negligence can affect your claim with our State Car Accident Guides.
Mitigation of Fault
In some cases, police officers recognize mitigating circumstances. Although most multi-car collisions are a result of someone’s negligence, there are occasions when no one is to blame.
For example, imagine multiple drivers are proceeding cautiously in a snowstorm when one hits an ice patch. Their car slams 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 from a traffic citation, accident victims may still be able to collect compensation from the driver’s insurance company.
Examples of Pile-ups Caused by Weather Conditions
- Slippery wet roads from a sudden thunderstorm on March 13, 2016, led to a 130-car pile-up injuring 20 people on Interstate 85 in Alamance County, South Carolina.
- On December 8, 2016, overnight snow caused a 50-vehicle pile-up injuring 20 people on Interstate 90 in Concord Township, Ohio that involved 15 tractor-trailers and at least 35 cars.
- Another 50-vehicle accident due to icy roads happened on February 5, 2018, on Interstate 35 near Ames, Iowa. At least 15 tractor-trailers and 35 cars were involved, with one fatality and five critically injured.
Filing Your Personal Injury Claim
If you’re in a multi-vehicle accident, contact your insurance company.
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 don’t live in a no-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.
Take advantage of these 12 Tips to Boost Your Injury Compensation.
To protect themselves, insurance companies may produce evidence of lack of fault for their insured. However, they may decide to fight it out among themselves. Then, 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.
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.
If you or a family member were severely injured, you’ll need a skilled personal injury attorney to get the compensation you deserve. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what a good attorney can do for you.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney…
Multi-Vehicle Accident Questions & Answers
I was in a Menard’s parking lot in Long Grove, IL, and I was backing out of a spot. No one was in my way…
I was waiting at a red light with a car in front of me. A car hit me from behind. He was probably going fairly…
Our nanny was taking my 3 kids home from their doctor appointment when a car behind hit a UPS truck and the UPS truck rear-ended…
I was involved in a multiple car accident. I was not at fault, the driver who caused the 5 car accident was intoxicated. He was…