Who’s At Fault in a Multi-Vehicle Pileup?

Tips and reminders for safe driving during this holiday season

With the holiday season in full-swing, many of us will soon be hitting the road to visit family and friends. While the hustle and bustle of the season can be exciting, it's important to remember to drive safely as the holidays are a particularly dangerous time to be on the roads.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that during holiday periods, there is a significant increase in traffic accidents. There are a number of factors contributing to this, including increased travel time, more alcohol consumption and excessive driving speed. Additionally, winter weather can make roads slick and difficult to navigate. Rain, fog, snow and ice can reduce visibility and make it harder to control your vehicle. For example, amid dense fog in I-5’s Grapevine, two major pileups involving at least 50 cars shut down that section of the interstate in 2019.

Major accidents can sometimes be caused by unforeseen events, as was the case with the multi-vehicle pileup in Riverside last week after a truck wheel came loose on the freeway. Whether you find yourself caught in a collision with three cars or 30, you may be left wondering how investigators will determine who’s at fault.

Determining Negligence:

Investigators look to identify the negligent party to determine responsibility. This may involve gathering evidence from witnesses, examining the vehicles involved and reviewing any available traffic camera footage. Here are some examples of negligent actions that frequently lead to collisions involving multiple vehicles:
  • Reckless Driving
    • Examples of reckless driving include weaving in and out of traffic and tailgating.
  • Distracted Driving
    • Different from reckless driving, actions that are considered distracted driving include texting, talking to someone in the car and other things that take your attention away from the road.
  • Disobeying Traffic Laws
    • Speeding, running red lights or stop signs and failing to yield the right of way are just a few examples of disobeying the rules of the road.
  • Driving Under the Influence
    • Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is considered negligent. Even if the substance is prescribed, driving after taking it may still be considered negligent.
Establishing Fault:

In these situations, it’s not unusual for multiple drivers to be found at fault. For instance, if a driver stops in the road and two cars behind them collide, the drivers of those two cars can be held responsible for tailgating.

When there is shared responsibility, attorneys and insurance agents determine the fault of each individual depending on their role in causing the accident. There are three ways to determine who is responsible for paying damages after an accident:
  • Comparative Negligence
    • Drivers are held liable for damages depending on their percentage of fault. For example, if you are 70% responsible for an accident, you are responsible for paying 70% of the damages.
    • California follows this system.
  • Modified Comparative Negligence
    • To recover damages from another driver, you must be less than 50% responsible for the accident. If you’re more than that, you must pay your own damages.
  • Pure Contributory Negligence
    • You must be totally without blame to recover compensation from others.
In some cases, other parties may be held accountable in addition to the drivers involved. For example, if the accident was caused by a defect in one of the vehicles, the manufacturer of that vehicle may be held responsible. Similarly, if the accident was caused by poor road conditions, the agency responsible for maintaining the road may be held liable.

Safety Tips

To stay safe on the roads this holiday season, remember to follow these safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • Plan your route in advance and allow plenty of time for travel.
  • Check the weather forecast and road conditions before setting out.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good working order with properly inflated tires and working headlights and taillights.
  • Avoid distractions while driving, such as using your phone.
  • Always wear your seatbelt and ensure that all passengers are buckled up as well.
  • Never drink and drive; the same goes for marijuana - don’t get high and drive.
If you are involved in a multi-vehicle pileup, seek legal advice as soon as possible to help determine who may be at fault and to protect your rights. The experienced attorneys at Custodio & Dubey LLP can help you navigate the legal process and ensure that you receive fair compensation for any damages or injuries you may have sustained.

Unless you have a red-nosed reindeer named Rudolph to guide you, avoid driving in thick fog. If it’s necessary, be extra cautious and drive carefully.

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