If you suffered a multi-vehicle car accident, it can be difficult to determine who is at fault. Establishing fault is a core part of personal injury claims, and shared liability could bring down your payout. So how do you determine fault in multi-vehicle accidents in California?
How Comparative Fault Works in California Car Accident Claims
In California, vehicle accident victims collect awards based on comparative negligence. Here’s an example of how this principle works: Let’s say a speeding driver cuts in front of you in the lane, causing you to lose control of your vehicle and crash. Since the other motorist violated traffic laws, they would be held responsible for the accident.
However, the at-fault driver’s insurer claims that you share part of the fault because you were handling your phone while driving. The judge who looks into the case could assign you 10% of the responsibility for the accident, which would lower the total payout you collect by 10%. Thus, if your case is worth $20,000, your final settlement would be $18,000.
Who Is Responsible for a Multi-Vehicle Accident?
Determining comparative negligence can be tricky even in a car crash with only two motorists. Case investigations become a lot more complicated in crashes that involve multiple vehicles.
As a rule, the primary liable driver is the one who started the chain of events leading to the first crash. For example, let’s say a driver rear-ends the car in front of them, starting a chain accident in which four other vehicles collide. In such a case, the responsibility would typically fall on the first driver who crashed into the vehicle in front of them.
Of course, based on the comparative negligence doctrine, several motorists may share fault in a pile-up collision. In the example above, the case investigation may show that although the first driver failed to keep a safe distance from the car in front of him, the third driver could have stopped in time to avoid hitting the fourth driver. In this case, the first and third drivers may both be liable.
Evidence that Can Help Establish Fault in Multi-Vehicle Accidents
Investigating a multi-car collision usually involves a precise step-by-step reconstruction of the accident to discover which actions caused and contributed to the entire chain of events. Evidence that may help determine fault in multi-vehicle accidents includes:
- Photos of the accident scene, including the layout of the entire accident scene and detailed shots of each vehicle from multiple angles. Photos of skid marks, debris, property damage, and other relevant details can also serve as valuable evidence.
- Dash cam footage. If you have a dashboard camera installed in your vehicle, dash cam footage can help establish the exact time and order of events in the accident.
- The police report. The crash report can include vital details that will help assign liability.
- Witness testimonies. Witnesses who observed the collision may offer crucial information that could help investigators reconstruct the accident and establish fault.
Dividing Compensation in Multi-Vehicle Accidents
Multi-vehicle collisions often lead to serious injuries for several victims. Many drivers in California only carry the minimum liability coverage, which is $15,000 per person and $30,000 for multiple victims. So what happens if, say, a single insurance policy with a cap of $30,000 has to cover four victims?
In this case, each victim’s average maximum payout would be only $7,500, which may be far from enough to cover medical costs and lost wages. The claimants may end up fighting for limited funds. Usually, the insurance adjuster and the victim’s lawyers will try to reach an acceptable settlement based on each claimant’s degree of injury.
In such a situation, you may be able to seek additional compensation through your own underinsured motorist coverage. You may also have grounds for a third-party claim if you can prove a vehicle manufacturing defect contributed to your accident.
Dos and Don’ts After a Multi-Vehicle Collision in Orange County
If you suffered a multi-vehicle collision, you should do the following:
- Move to a safe place and call 911 (if anyone is injured) and the police
- Collect the names, license plate numbers, and contact information of all the involved motorists
- Take multiple detailed photos and videos of the accident scene
- Ask for the names and contact details of any witnesses and passengers
- Seek medical attention and save all your medical records
- Call a local vehicle accident lawyer and start working on your claim
At the same time, please don’t:
- Admit fault, especially when talking to insurance company representatives
- Blame or argue with other motorists who were involved in the accident
- Accept any insurance settlement without consulting a lawyer first
The Importance of Skilled Legal Help for Multi-Vehicle Accident Victims
Working with a competent, dedicated legal team is the number one step that can improve your chances of successful claim resolution after a multi-vehicle accident. We recommend choosing a local car accident lawyer who knows the traffic regulations in Orange County and may even be familiar with the exact spot where your accident occurred.
Your car accident attorney can:
- Examine available evidence to establish fault in multi-vehicle accidents and help you source additional evidence
- Give you a realistic estimate of your claim’s worth and the amount of payout you may expect
- Handle the entire claim process, including filing the necessary documentation and communicating with insurers
- Advocate for your interests and work hard to expedite your claim
- Advise you on further legal steps, like a lawsuit and trial, if the insurance company fails to make an adequate settlement offer
Khalil Law Group: Assertive Legal Support for Your Vehicle Accident Case in Orange County, CA
Establishing fault in multi-vehicle accidents may involve complex investigation, meticulous documentation, and skillful case-building. Timely and proficient legal support can make all the difference in the outcome of your claim.
At Khalil Law Group, we advocate for the rights of vehicle accident victims in Orange County. Call (714) 617-7870 24/7 or contact us online for a free consultation with a car accident lawyer in Newport Beach, CA.