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Who is Responsible for a Multi-Car Crash?


Even the most minor of fender bender accidents can be stressful for everyone involved in the crash. However, few things are as terrifying as getting into a multi-car pileup, especially when all the vehicles involved were traveling at high speeds. Multi-car accidents can cause serious physical injuries, substantial property damage, and long-lasting mental trauma. If you’ve been involved in a pileup, you’re probably wondering who can be held responsible for the collision. In this article, we explain how liability is determined in such a situation.

How Do Pileup Collisions Occur?

A pileup or chain reaction crash occurs when an initial collision involving one or more vehicles causes multiple additional cars to become involved in the accident. In most cases, factors that can cause a single-car collision are also capable of causing a chain reaction crash. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) states that some of the potential causes for a wreck include:

Who Can Potentially be Responsible for a Multi-Car Collision?

Since every motor vehicle crash occurs under unique circumstances, a thorough investigation is necessary to determine who bears some level of responsibility for the incident. In multi-car collisions, there are frequently multiple parties that share some degree of liability for the crash, even if one driver is found to have been primarily responsible. For this reason, Lynch, Traub, Keefe & Errante advise you to call upon the services of a local injury attorney familiar with your state’s traffic and liability laws.

After getting into a chain reaction crash, it is important to call 911. Paramedics can assess the injuries of everyone involved in the crash and the local authorities can begin investigating the accident. Typically, the responding officer(s) will speak to everyone involved in the collision, examine on-scene evidence, take down witness statements, and put their findings in an accident report. If the police believe that one or more drivers were impaired at the time of the pileup, they may conduct a field sobriety test or request a urine, breath, or blood test. Should a driver’s test results indicate they were driving under the influence, they may be arrested for DUI.

Next, insurance companies typically open an investigation into the situation to determine the liability of their policyholders. The evidence in the police report may be used to determine liability, but the car insurance adjuster can also visit the accident scene, speak to witnesses, and inspect the damaged vehicles. This information is used to help the insurance adjuster decide who is responsible for the accident, and insurance payouts will be configured.

Is the Rear Car in a Pileup Always Liable for the Collision?

The tailing driver is not always at fault for an accident, but they will frequently share some degree of responsibility for the crash. If there is indisputable evidence that the rear car could have avoided the crash, it is likely that the driver will be at least partly at fault. In some cases, the tailing driver will share less liability for the pileup, or even none. For example, if one of the cars involved in the collision did not have working brake lights, the rear driver may bear little to no responsibility for their role in the crash.

No-Fault Versus At-Fault Insurance States

To understand how you will receive compensation following a chain reaction crash, it’s important to consider whether you live in a no-fault or at-fault insurance state.

In a no-fault state, each individual driver’s insurance company is responsible for covering their injuries and damages suffered, regardless of who is found to be at fault for the crash. This is usually accomplished through a personal injury protection policy. In cases where you suffered substantial property damage, you may be able to make a claim against the at-fault driver.

When you live in an at-fault state, the driver(s) who are responsible for the crash must compensate the other injured parties. Depending on the circumstances, this may be accomplished with either an out-of-pocket payment or an insurance claim through the liable party’s provider. When a driver’s insurance policy is used, bodily injury liability coverage is used to pay for injuries.

As of 2022, the breakdown of fault and no-fault states can be found in the table below. “Choice No Fault” indicates that drivers may choose to opt into either a fault or no-fault insurance policy in the state.

State At-Fault or No-Fault
Alabama At-Fault
Alaska At-Fault
Arizona At-Fault
Arkansas At-Fault
California At-Fault
Colorado At-Fault
Connecticut At-Fault
Delaware At-Fault
District of Columbia At-Fault
Florida No-Fault
Georgia At-Fault
Hawaii No-Fault
Idaho At-Fault
Illinois At-Fault
Indiana At-Fault
Iowa At-Fault
Kansas No-Fault
Kentucky Choice No-Fault
Louisiana At-Fault
Maine At-Fault
Maryland At-Fault
Massachusetts No-Fault
Michigan No-Fault
Minnesota No-Fault
Mississippi At-Fault
Missouri At-Fault
Montana At-Fault
Nebraska At-Fault
Nevada At-Fault
New Hampshire At-Fault
New Jersey Choice No-Fault
New Mexico At-Fault
New York No-Fault
North Carolina At-Fault
North Dakota No-Fault
Ohio At-Fault
Oklahoma At-Fault
Oregon At-Fault
Pennsylvania Choice No-Fault
Rhode Island At-Fault
South Carolina At-Fault
South Dakota At-Fault
Tennessee At-Fault
Texas At-Fault
Utah No-Fault
Vermont At-Fault
Virginia At-Fault
Washington At-Fault
West Virginia At-Fault
Wisconsin At-Fault
Wyoming At-Fault

Steps to Follow After a Car Crash

After a car crash, it’s essential to protect the wellbeing of everyone that was in your car during the collision. We’ve put together a list of steps to follow after a pileup, so you know what to do in this situation.

  1. Get your vehicle out of traffic if it is still operable. If not, seek safety at a location out of the flow of traffic.
  2. Check yourself and your passengers for injuries.
  3. Call 911.
  4. Document the scene of the accident if you can do so without putting yourself at risk.
  5. Exchange information with all involved parties and take down the name and contact information of any witnesses.
  6. Visit a doctor, even if you do not feel seriously hurt.
  7. Speak to a local car accident attorney about your legal options for compensation.

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