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:
- Unsafe speed
- Improper turns
- Distracted driving
- Violation of stop signs or traffic signals
- Driving on the wrong side of the road
- Violation of right-of-way rules
- Reckless or aggressive driving
- Impaired driving
- Poor road conditions
- Vehicle malfunction
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|
|District of Columbia||At-Fault|
|New Jersey||Choice No-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.
- Get your vehicle out of traffic if it is still operable. If not, seek safety at a location out of the flow of traffic.
- Check yourself and your passengers for injuries.
- Call 911.
- Document the scene of the accident if you can do so without putting yourself at risk.
- Exchange information with all involved parties and take down the name and contact information of any witnesses.
- Visit a doctor, even if you do not feel seriously hurt.
- Speak to a local car accident attorney about your legal options for compensation.