How Is Liability Determined in a Multi-Car Crash?

Not all car accidents are two-vehicle collisions where fault is obvious. Many involve three, four or more vehicles – making fault less clear. It is often necessary to determine liability for a multi-car crash, however, if a victim wants to recover compensation from the at-fault party. Understanding how insurance companies determine legal fault could help you figure out liability for your recent multiple-vehicle crash.

Accident Investigation

Multiple insurance companies will typically investigate a multi-car crash: the insurers of the drivers involved in the collision. These insurance companies will have investigators review the facts of the case, speak to those involved and possibly return to the scene of the collision for further analysis. The goal of the investigation will be to determine which driver triggered the chain reaction that impacted the other vehicles. The driver at fault for the initial collision will typically be liable for everyone else’s damages.

An insurance company investigation often involves reviewing any photos or videos of the wreck, reading police reports, assessing medical records, contacting eyewitnesses, and viewing the damaged vehicles in person. The insurance company’s investigators will use this evidence to try to piece together who caused the initial wreck that led to the chain reaction involving other vehicles. This party’s insurance company will then be financially responsible for victims’ damages.

Common causes of multi-car accidents include human error, driver negligence, recklessness, bad weather, rain and ice, dangerous roads, obscured road signs, and defective vehicles. Multi-car accidents are often chain reactions; for example, Driver A falls asleep behind the wheel and hits Driver B, who rolls forward and hits Driver C. It is often necessary to identify what started a multi-car accident to determine liability.


Vehicle Damage Inspection and Crash Reconstruction

How a collision damages a vehicle can say a lot about how the car accident occurred. Damage to one car can show exactly where the other vehicle struck. This can provide clues as to the speed and direction of the at-fault driver. Insurance companies often send claims adjusters to the auto shops where the wrecked vehicles are being stored and/or repaired for a visual inspection of the damages. This inspection serves to help the insurance company gauge the value of damages for the claims process.

Damage inspection can also help investigators better understand the order in which the vehicles crashed. It may be possible to uncover important details about how the multi-car crash happened based on vehicle damage. It is common for an insurance company to assess fault through car accident reconstruction using information from damage analysis. The insurer might hire crash reconstructionists to rebuild the scene of the crash based on the evidence available. Crash reconstruction can help insurance companies understand who started the chain reaction. Reconstruction can provide important evidence as to fault during an injury claim.


Who Is Liable for a Multi-Car Crash?

Some multi-vehicle accidents come down to the fault and liability of just one driver – often, the first driver that collided with someone else, causing a chain reaction involving many other vehicles. Other collisions, however, involve the negligence or recklessness of multiple drivers, each responsible for a share of liability for the collision. Failing to keep a safe following distance, speeding, distracted driving and red-light running are all examples of negligence that could play a role in a multi-car accident.

Multi-vehicle crashes often invoke the rule of comparative negligence. This is a legal theory stating that more than one party can share fault for an auto accident. Depending on state laws, comparative negligence may or may not bar a plaintiff from recovering compensation. Kansas is a 49% recovery state, meaning a filing party cannot be more than 49% responsible for the multi-car accident to be eligible for compensation. Missouri is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning a victim could be 99% at fault for an accident and still be eligible for compensation. The victims of a multi-vehicle accident may need assistance from a Kansas City car accident attorneys to determine crash liability.


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