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Who Is at Fault in a Multi-Vehicle Accident?

Establishing fault after an accident is crucial. Without the ability to prove that another driver is at fault, you can run into serious legal troubles trying to recover the compensation you are owed. This only becomes more complicated when multiple drivers are involved in your collision.

So how do you determine who is at fault in multi-vehicle accidents? As with any other accident, it is important to focus on which party or parties violated traffic laws or committed some type of negligence while driving. For example, say one person was speeding and the person in the lane next to theirs was texting while driving. All of a sudden the texting driver drifts into the speeding driver's lane and smashes into their vehicle, causing them to spin out and hit another car. Under certain laws, the first two drivers may both be at fault for the damages and injuries caused to the third driver.

Each Driver's Duty of Care

When you get behind the wheel, you have a duty of care or responsibility to other drivers on the road. If you fail to drive reasonably or commit acts of negligence, you could be accused of violating this duty of care. Some acts are considered more willful, such as speeding, while others are just negligent, like vehicle or engine troubles due to lack of maintenance.

All three drivers involved in the initial example owed each other a duty of care. The first two drivers violated that duty of care to each other and the third driver. As such, they would likely be found at fault. However, the percentage of that fault for each driver would still need to be determined.

What Does Pure Comparative Negligence Mean?

Once it is determined that both drivers were in the wrong, you must then determine how much each was at fault. In California, the pure comparative negligence rule is upheld in multi-vehicle accidents cases to help determine this. The law essentially says that the amount of compensation that each driver owes is dependent on their percentage of fault in the accident.

In other words, the following must be resolved in the example cases:

  • How much the first driver contributed to the accident for (0% to 100%)
  • How much the second driver contributed to the accident for (0% to 100%)
  • How much the third driver contributed to the accident (0% to 100%)
  • If an insurance companies / drivers are willing to agree on fault
  • Whether or not a jury trial must be used to make a ruling

Sticking to the example, the driver that was speeding may have been negligent for going over the speed limit, but the one who was using their phone and drifted into the other lane would likely be considered more at fault. Why? Their specific actions led to the initial collision, though the second driver's actions still contributed in some way. Proving the specific percentages of fault can be very difficult, especially when more than two cars were involved.

On top of that, it is often very difficult to work with insurance companies in these cases. If the third driver tries to get 50% of their claim covered by each driver, they may run into trouble. For example,l the second driver who was texting may claim that they think they were only 40% at fault, while the speeding driver believes they should only be held 20% at fault. As you can see, at-fault drivers often have a difficult time admitting fault, which means their insurance companies likely won't back down.

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