Who Is Liable in a Multiple-Vehicle Accident?
Jim sits at a red light, minding his business and obeying the rules. Suddenly, a truck slams into his car. Jim immediately realizes he’s been hurt, but he’s still able to get out of the car. As he’s about to confront the person who hit him, he sees what really happened. The truck that hit Jim’s car had been rear-ended by another car, which seems to have been first clipped by a fourth car. Jim knows he’s going to need medical attention; he knows he’s going to need help with the bills; and he doesn’t know who to blame.
Finding fault in an auto accident involving just two cars is difficult. A big portion of the entire personal injury profession is built around just that scenario. Finding fault in an accident involving three or more cars becomes vastly more complicated.
Comparative Negligence in Oklahoma
Oklahoma uses a “comparative negligence” model for personal injury cases. In this model, the court assigns a percentage of blame to the people involved in an accident. For example, someone shouldn’t be speeding, but they hit a car that was stopped in the middle of the road. Who is more at fault in that case? The court may decide that Person A was 65% at fault, and Person B was 35% responsible.
Once a verdict has been reached, the plaintiff receives a percentage of the total damages based on their level of liability. If the court ruled that the plaintiff was 35% responsible for the accident, the plaintiff can get 65% of the total compensation. A plaintiff who is found to be 51% responsible or more will receive no reward from the court.
This model becomes far more convoluted when you add drivers and vehicles. If you’re trying to reach a total of 100%, numbers can start flying around chaotically.
Determining Fault with Multiple Vehicles
The actions and inactions of each driver need to be studied and evaluated when determining fault. In a best-case scenario, one car at the end of a long chain of cars hits the driver in front of them, causing a domino effect. The person who caused the initial collision is liable for all the damage they caused, end of story. Unfortunately, it’s often more involved than that.
Think about our fictional “Jim,” who was sitting at a stop light. He was at a stop, so it’s very difficult to assume he was responsible for being hit from behind. But what about the other drivers?
Let’s look at the driver who hit Jim. He, too, was rear-ended, but maybe his story doesn’t stop there. What if he had just taken his foot off the break, anxious to get moving? Doing so made his car lurch forward much faster, which is why he hit Jim. If he had been breaking properly, Jim’s car wouldn’t have been touched.
What about the driver who hit the truck? We’ll call her “Sarah.” She had been clipped by the fourth car that was trying to merge, which caused her to hit the truck, which then hit Jim. Not her fault, right? Well, she was distracted at the time of the accident. Looking down at her radio, she was coming up on the truck way too fast. The fourth driver, the one trying to change lanes, was waiting respectfully for Sarah to slow to a stop, so he could get in behind her. When Sarah looked up and saw the truck, she reacted and slammed on her breaks. Because Sarah stopped far earlier than Driver 4 expected, he clipped her; she hit the truck; the truck hit Jim.
This little fiction is just an example of how complicated it can get when trying to find fault with multiple-vehicle accidents. It is crucial to hire a lawyer when you are seeking compensation for such an event.
How to Determine Fault with Three or More Vehicles
An experienced, skilled lawyer is going to compile all the data and then compare, compare, and compare some more.
Your lawyer’s first order of business is to look at all witness statements. All drivers and all outside observers have a story to tell. It’s important to see where those tales don’t line up properly. It’s also necessary to pick up on the little details. Something as simple as a person’s saying, “when I looked up” should raise a red flag. Looked up from what? Where was their attention prior to that? This is the kind of investigating your lawyer should do.
Next up, your lawyer surveys the physical evidence. Where was each car hit, and how hard? Each little impact will pull together a story of what happened. Also, it’s time to return to the scene of the accident. What do the skid marks tell your lawyer? If there were no skid marks for a particular car, that could be a clue that it wasn’t at a complete stop. With skill and experience, your lawyer will start to get a clearer picture of what really happened. It’s also useful to see where each car was when the crashing stopped. Those positions will reveal a lot about how each car got where it landed.
There are plenty of other clues your lawyer can use to piece together the events. Police reports, video, traffic patterns, weather, road conditions, etc. can all be contributing factors to the overall accident.
When you’ve been in a pileup and need compensation, do not try to tackle this problem on your own. Seek out a professional who can fight to get you the reward you deserve.
If you’ve been injured in an accident involving multiple drivers, it’s time to call Richardson Richardson Boudreaux, PLLC. We have years of experience handling cases just like this, and we’ve recovered a total upward of $500 million for our clients. There is no risk in talking to us, and our consultations are free. Reach out today at (918) 347-6456 or contact us online.