When two vehicles are in an accident, determining liability is usually very clear-cut about who broke the law and should be held responsible. But what happens in a chaotic crash that involves three or more vehicles? This scenario is often referred to as a “chain reaction event” because there’s likely to be one initial collision that triggers subsequent crashes.
If you were in a severe accident that involved three cars, the most important question will be who pays to cover your damages. There are many factors to consider when determining fault in a three-car accident, and it’s also possible for more than one of the drivers to be considered liable.
The Causes of Three-Car Accidents
Car accidents with three or more vehicles tend to be very dangerous, especially in heavily-transited areas like a highway or freeway. The root cause for these crashes is likely to be a traffic violation or act of negligence that creates the conditions for a collision to unfold and then spin out of control in a way that involves a third vehicle.
Some examples of illegal driving behaviors that can cause a three-car accident include:
- Running through a red light or Stop sign
- Failing to yield the right-of-way
- Tailgating, or not adhering to a safe distance between your vehicle and the one in front
- Making an illegal turn or not properly signaling
- Being distracted while driving, such as using a smartphone
- Breaking the speed limit and losing control of the vehicle
- Driving erratically while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
There are also many scenarios where the actions of more than one driver may have contributed to the accident.
- Scenario A: Three vehicles are arriving at a stoplight at night, and the first vehicle has broken tail lights, making it harder for the second vehicle to notice the car in front has stopped. Meanwhile, the third vehicle is tailgating the second vehicle. The sequence of events for the accident is Vehicle 2 rear-ends Vehicle 1 and then gets rear-ended by Vehicle 3. Vehicle 1 is liable for not properly maintaining their vehicle and Vehicle 3 is liable for not leaving an appropriate gap while following.
- Scenario B: The first vehicle changes lanes unsafely without properly signaling. The driver of the second vehicle is distracted by their smartphone. Vehicle 2 slams into Vehicle 1, which pushes the car to swerve into Vehicle 3. For this sequence of events, the first vehicle is liable for violating traffic rules and the second vehicle is liable for distracted driving.
- Scenario C: Vehicle 1 runs a red light and slams into Vehicle 2, which was driving well past the speed limit. Vehicle 2 suddenly stops and gets rear-ended by Vehicle 3, which couldn’t brake in time to avoid the collision. In this case, the first two vehicles are liable for negligent driving.
How West Virginia Handles Liability After a Three Car Accident?
West Virginia is an at-fault state, meaning the driver who caused a collision is responsible for paying the damages of everyone affected. The legal threshold for liability is essentially whoever broke the law or committed an act of negligence that led to the accident.
Under West Virginia’s modified comparative negligence laws, liability can break into percentages of fault based on which actions were most irresponsible. According to this system, driving while intoxicated is likely considered more serious than making an illegal turn, and using a smartphone is more negligent than running a stop sign.
The Process for Investigating a Three-Car Accident
After an accident that involves multiple vehicles, there are likely to be conflicting accounts of what happened and who was at fault. Lawyers and insurance companies use several different resources to determine who contributed to the crash and how to distribute liability.
The evidence that gets reviewed as part of the investigation of a three-car accident can include.
- The police report: Law enforcement officers called to the scene of an accident with multiple vehicles will document and preserve important information about the crash, such as how the cars were positioned right after the collision, and whether any drivers were intoxicated. Crucially, the police report also has statements from any bystanders that witnessed the accident and can shed light on the surrounding circumstances.
- Videos and photos from the accident scene: Some video may show the impact from a 3-car accident, often from dashcams, traffic cameras, or the surveillance systems of nearby businesses. Photos of physical evidence like skid marks or the damage caused to each vehicle can also help investigators figure out what happened.
- Expert testimony from car accident reconstructionists: Forensic experts use various tools to interpret the evidence, reconstruct how the accident happened and determine liability.
When to Hire a Car Accident Attorney?
If you were in a serious three-car accident with disputed liability, the sooner you can speak to an attorney, the better. A crash with multiple vehicles has a very high chance of injuries and property damage.
With each driver trying to lower their liability burden to cover their expenses, the at-fault parties can blame you for the accident even if you’re actually a victim.
Call a skilled West Virginia car accident attorney who can help protect your legal rights, maximize the value of your claim, and provide support throughout the entire process of filing for compensation.