In a car accident, the person who causes the accident bears a legal responsibility to compensate others who have experienced injuries or property damage. This seems like a simple concept; however, many factors determine liability, and some cases involve more complexities and obstacles than others. One type of accident that can prove particularly complicated involves more than two vehicles.
If you are in a three-car accident, a car accident attorney can thoroughly investigate your case to determine all sources of liability and all insurance resources that can provide compensation.
Who Pays in a Three-Car Accident?
When it comes to liability in a car accident, you have to understand that not every accident has one at-fault party and one victim. Even accidents involving just two vehicles can have more than one liable party.
Both drivers can bear liability for careless or reckless actions that led to the accident. So can indirectly involved parties, such as the manufactures of defective auto parts, or businesses that furnished alcohol to a minor who later caused an accident due to alcohol impairment (and the parents of the minor, who are legally responsible for their child’s actions until they reach 18).
The same rules apply when accidents involve three cars. The sources of liability depend on the details of the case.
Below, we discuss some common three-car accident scenarios, with consideration given to liability:
- Three vehicles travel along the roadway when they encounter a red light. The first two vehicles stop for the light, but the driver of the third vehicle may be distracted and fail to stop. The third vehicle crashes into the second vehicle, which then crashes into the first. Without any mitigating factors, liability for damages caused to the other vehicles and occupants would solely lie with the driver of the third vehicle.
- Using the same scenario as above, let’s say the brake lights were out in vehicle number two, which was the reason that the driver of the third vehicle failed to realize that traffic had stopped. While the driver of the third vehicle is likely still liable for failing to stop at a red light, the driver of vehicle number two may bear some liability for failing to properly maintain the vehicle by replacing the malfunctioning light.
- The same three vehicles travel down the roadway. The drivers of the second and third vehicles both follow too closely. The driver of the first vehicle suddenly slams on the brakes to avoid hitting a child who runs into the road. The sudden stop causes the tailgating driver in vehicle two to no longer have the distance needed to come to a safe stop, and likewise for the driver of vehicle three.
- The first vehicle travels in an adjacent lane to vehicle two. That driver decides to change lanes. The driver of the first vehicle cuts off the driver of the second vehicle. The driver of the second vehicle attempts to avoid the collision by swerving into another lane, where that driver strikes vehicle three. In this case, the driver of the first vehicle may bear liability for the damages caused to the other two vehicles and occupants.
- Now imagine that the driver in vehicle one was traveling well over the posted speed when vehicle number three pulled out from a side road. The excess speed of the vehicle not only caused the driver of the second vehicle to fail to judge a safe gap in traffic but also resulted in vehicle number one requiring more stopping distance. Vehicle one collided with vehicle two, and the force of the collision pushed vehicle one into an oncoming traffic lane, where it collided head-on with vehicle three. In this case, liability would likely be with the driver of vehicle one due to the excessive speed when the accident occurred.
How to Prove Liability in a Car Accident Claim
Liability is another term for legal responsibility. To have a successful outcome to a personal injury or property damage claim after a three-car accident, you must prove that the accident resulted from someone else’s carelessness or recklessness.
To determine liability, you must prove the following elements of negligence:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care, which in most cases is to take reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to other people or property. Drivers owe each other a duty to operate motor vehicles safely and legally.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care by taking actions that violated the duty to protect people and property by avoiding unsafe or illegal activity. Some actions in the above scenarios that may constitute a breach in the duty of care include tailgating, failing to yield the right-of-way, failing to ensure that one’s vehicle is properly maintained and safe to operate on the roadway, distracted driving, and driving too fast for conditions.
- The breach in the duty of care caused an accident in which you became injured, and as a result of those injuries, you incurred financial and psychological impacts.
Certain risky driving behaviors tend to spell automatic liability regardless of the other factors that caused the accident.
This does not mean that other parties did not also bear liability, only that the ones who exhibit these behaviors will bear at least some liability for the accident:
- Drivers who back up. A driver bears liability for failing to ensure a clear path before backing up.
- Left-turning drivers without a green arrow. Drivers turning left don’t always know that they only have the right-of-way is if the signal features a solid green arrow. If the traffic signal for the turn does not feature an arrow but only a light, they must yield the right-of-way to roadway users who are traveling through the intersection from the opposing direction.
- Red-light runners. Individuals who cause multiple-car collisions for failing to yield at a red light are highly likely to find themselves liable for the damages they cause to people and property.
- Drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol. Even if their actions weren’t completely responsible for causing the crash, an impaired driver will almost always bear at least partial liability for an accident.
The Types of Evidence Your Attorney Will Review When Assessing Liability
Often, the scene contains the most important evidence needed when determining liability for a three-car accident.
This evidence includes:
- The police report, which consists of information gathered by the officer who investigated the accident. Police reports are often inadmissible in court, as the police officer reports on events that usually happened before the officer arrived on the scene. However, these reports can contain a wealth of information, including the identities of all drivers involved (which can help if you were too injured to exchange information with other drivers), the names and statements provided by eyewitnesses, a narrative of how the accident occurred based on the statements by all parties involved, a list of all witnesses, and other aspects of the investigation—such as skid marks and traffic patterns. If you retain an attorney to handle your claim, they may work with accident reconstruction experts to determine how the accident occurred by analyzing skid marks and other evidence at the accident scene.
- Photos of the damage to each vehicle. Individuals who avoided injury or who did not sustain an injury severe enough to limit their ability to move will often take photographs of all four sides of every vehicle involved. This is a good idea, as experts can glean a significant amount about accident causes by looking at the damage sustained by the involved vehicles. Additionally, this avoids the issue of someone blaming the accident for damage that was not present when you took the photos of the damage at the scene.
- The vehicle’s Event Data Recorder, also known as the black box. The black box is often mentioned after plane accidents, as this onboard technology can offer clues as to the conditions that led to the accident. These are important pieces of evidence in car accident claims as well. Since 2014, all vehicles manufactured and sold in the U.S. must contain a black box. Black boxes’ sensors can tell if a vehicle’s engine has something wrong with it, whether the driver braked before the accident and at what force, the speed the vehicle was traveling when the impact occurred, whether seatbelts were used during the accident, blinker use, and whether the airbags deployed during the collision.
How Liability Affects Your Three-Car Accident Claim
An accident involving the drivers of three different vehicles means there are at least three potentially liable parties and a possibility that all of them share in the blame. Most states have a form of comparative negligence that apportions financial responsibility for harm to others based on the percentage of each party’s responsibility.
When proving liability in a three-car accident, your attorney will work to establish that another party bears liability for your accident as well as prove that you bear no liability.
The Importance of Having an Attorney After a Three-Car Accident
As noted, one of the many services that experienced car accident attorneys can provide for three-car accident claimants is a determination of all sources of liability and all associated insurance resources. These insurance resources pay most personal injury settlements and awards.
While you may sue an uninsured person and even obtain a court judgment in your favor, collecting your compensation would prove difficult as most uninsured people do not have the finances to pay for someone else’s accident expenses out-of-pocket. If there are multiple liable parties, and some have associated auto liability insurance policies while others don’t, it is far more likely that compensation will come from the insured sources.
Some of the other services that an attorney can provide to your claim include:
- The establishment of a value to your claim based on the expenses you have and will likely incur. Understanding the true value of your case will prove extraordinarily helpful when faced with determining whether an offered settlement provides fair compensation. Rest assured that your attorney can provide a tremendous amount of guidance when deciding whether to accept a settlement as well, but ultimately, the decision of whether to accept or reject a settlement offer will rest with you.
- Negotiations with the insurance providers of all liable parties to obtain a settlement that provides you with fair compensation.
- The timely filing of your court-required paperwork and representation of your claim at all pre-trial conferences and hearings.
- Litigation services, such as the presentation of evidence and the examination of witnesses.
- Assistance collecting your settlement or award.
Injured in a Three-Car Accident? An Experienced Attorney Can Help
Trying to determine liability in a three-car accident can somewhat resemble a three-ring circus, involving many actions on all sides. Retain a car accident attorney with experience negotiating and litigating three-car accidents to handle your legal claim. An attorney can help you make sense of the process and learn more about what to expect from your claim. For your free case evaluation, contact an attorney online today.