In A Multi Vehicle Auto Accident Who Is At Fault?

Written by Steven Matz on . Posted in .

Car accidents are far too common, and that’s true even for car accidents that involve more than two vehicles. Just last year, it was breaking news when more than 100 vehicles were involved in a single accident in Kalamazoo, Michigan during a snowstorm on US 131.

In the wake of a multi-car accident, determining liability can be challenging. Dealing with insurance companies is already difficult, but making sure that you get as much compensation as you can is a lot to take on while you’re focused primarily on recovery. That is why you need experienced car accident lawyers on your side. At Matz Injury Law, our legal team works with you to put you in the best position for getting fair compensation from adjusters. We have served Michigan for decades and are eager to serve you.

What Is a Multi-Vehicle Car Accident?

Put simply, a multi-vehicle auto accident is an accident that involves more than two vehicles, whether the total is reached by a third vehicle or many more. As a quick disclaimer, other names for a multi-vehicle crash include pile-up and chain reaction accidents. The latter comes from the common occurrence of a vehicle getting hit in the rear and then subsequently being pushed into another vehicle that can then be knocked further into other vehicles and oncoming traffic.

A multi-car crash is particularly dangerous because vehicles typically need to be going at high speeds in order to be hit with enough force to knock them into other vehicles. Of course, road conditions in which braking is difficult, like ice, can also cause these accidents.

How Are Multi-Vehicle Car Accidents Different?

A multi-vehicle collision is a complicated event with several moving parts, so narrowing down fault is a bit tricky. More importantly, however, the potential injuries are much worse. In fact, these accidents can result in life-threatening injuries that will keep cascading as more and more vehicles become involved, leading to more injured people that dominate local news

What Causes Multi-Vehicle Car Accidents in Michigan?

Multi-vehicle pile-ups are most common in winter when heavy snowfall causes whiteout conditions. Not only does this decrease visibility, but it can make the roads harder for vehicles to find traction. This naturally leads to multi-car accidents, as drivers fail to adjust to the conditions correctly. 

Thankfully, we do not see too many pile-ups here. There is a very famous one from Wisconsin a few years ago that involved several trucks, so there is plenty of dash cam footage available for viewing. Unfortunately, many drivers have no concept of how long it will take to stop given differing road conditions. Even if you leave the appropriate amount of distance between you and the car in front of you, if you’re going 70 mph, there is no way you will stop in time if the car in front of you slams on its brakes.  

The biggest cause of these accidents is the weather, but one inattentive driver can also trigger them. The main reason they happen is reduced visibility. It’s unlikely that several cars will all fail to see a crash that has occurred ahead unless the weather prevents it. If you can see the crash up ahead, you’ll have time to react and stop.

What Should I Do If I am in a Multi-Car Accident?

Man on his phone next to a rear end accident

Getting in a multi-car accident is a stressful situation, to put it lightly, so it’s best that you follow the necessary steps to ensure that you’re in the best position for compensation for the accident. 

1. Stay in Your Vehicle

The first step is to stay in your vehicle with your seat belt fastened. Multi-car accidents often have an ongoing domino effect as more and more cars get involved. Keep your seat belt on and stay inside until EMTs or someone from the police department tell you that it’s OK to exit. You never know when another vehicle is going to hit the pile-up and knock the car around a bit more. Standing outside your car could put you in more danger.

2. Turn on Your Hazard Lights

If you are able, turn on the hazard lights in your car after you’ve been hit. While it’s not a guarantee that this will prevent further collisions from occurring, it should at least help warn other cars of the car pile-up and give them advance notice to make evasive maneuvers. 

3. Collect Evidence

After you’ve been given clearance to exit your vehicle, collect as much evidence as you can regarding the accident, assuming you don’t need urgent medical attention first. Take photos of the damage to your vehicle as well as the positioning of the vehicles involved. Additionally, gather evidence of the road conditions as well as any skid marks that may have been left on the road. The police report can be useful for corroborating the evidence.

4. Notify Your Insurance

After collecting evidence, it’s time to notify your insurance company. Be aware that notifying them is not the same thing as accepting an offer or filing a claim with them. You should always speak with a Michigan car accident attorney first before making any final decisions. This step is just to notify the insurance company that the accident occurred.

5. Call a Car Accident Lawyer

To ensure that you are in the best position for compensation, you’ll need legal advice from a car accident lawyer. Remember, insurance companies profit by denying you as much compensation as they feel is possible. Having an experienced lawyer in your corner helps you fight back.

What Happens If I Get Into a Multi-Car Accident in Michigan?

Because Michigan is a no-fault state, you can get compensation for damages incurred in the accident no matter who was at fault. It’s also legally required in the state to have personal injury protection benefits, which can cover damages such as medical costs, lost income, and funeral expenses in the event of fatalities. Property damage is covered separately but is still in the same overall category of economic damages or damages that are easily quantifiable.

How Is Liability Determined in a Michigan Multi-Vehicle Accident?

While your insurer can typically cover economic damages, you’ll need to determine fault to seek compensation against the liable motorist. Proving fault typically means being able to demonstrate negligence, and that’s a task best left to an experienced personal injury lawyer. To demonstrate negligence, you’ll need to be able to argue four major points: 

  • The driver has a legal duty of care to others on the road.
  • The driver breached this duty of care.
  • The breach of care caused the accident.
  • The accident caused your injuries.

When it comes to multi-vehicle accidents specifically, it’s possible for more than one driver to be at fault. In fact, big pile-ups are often the result of multiple people being negligent at the same time rather than solely the assumed person at the rear. Even if the weather was the primary catalyst for the accident, it is still possible to demonstrate negligence by arguing the aforementioned four points.

Why Is Determining Fault in a Multi-Vehicle Accident Important?

Man filling out insurance paperwork for his auto accident

Determining fault matters because Michigan uses a modified comparative negligence framework. If you’re found to be partially responsible for the accident, your compensation will be decreased by the percentage of your own liability. For example, if it’s determined that you are 30% responsible for an accident in which you suffered $100,000 worth of damages, you’d only be able to get $70,000 in compensation. 

A Car Accident Lawsuit Can Take Years to Settle. We’ll Take Care of You in the Meantime

A Michigan car accident lawsuit — especially a complicated one — may take years to settle. We can help you sue for noneconomic damages so you can spend the months following your car accident recovering from your injuries. Contact our law firm online or call 1-866-22NOT33 today for a free consultation.

Written By Steven Matz

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury. Mr. Matz earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with high distinction and highest honors in 1974 from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree in 1977 from The George Washington University National Law Center. Mr. Matz lectures and publishes in a number of areas, including ethics, marketing, trial tactics, and head injury. Mr. Matz has served on the Michigan Association for Justice Executive Board and currently serves the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board as a Hearing Panel Chairman and Master. He is also a member of the State Bar Committee for Character and Fitness.
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