In an auto accident involving two drivers, determining who is at fault is generally a pretty straightforward process. It’s usually easy to see if one driver made a mistake that caused the accident or not.
When a third car is added to the equation, however, things become more complicated. One driver may have done something that caused the entire accident. Two of the three drivers may share a portion of the responsibility for what happened or perhaps the true fault lies somewhere with all three parties.
So how then do the police, courts, and insurance companies determine who is at fault in a three-car accident in Pennsylvania?
A Common Three-Car Accident
Let’s start with an example of a common type of accident involving three cars and then we’ll look at how fault and liability in this accident might be assigned.
Let’s say we have three drivers riding one behind the other approaching a red traffic light and the following sequence of events occurs:
- Driver 1 stops normally for the red light.
- Driver 2 doesn’t stop for some reason and runs into driver 1.
- Driver 3 was following closely and is unable to stop safely when driver 2 comes to a sudden stop. He hits driver 2, causing further impact to the vehicle of driver 1.
It’s easy to see what happened in this accident and who hit whom. When you think about it, though, it’s not so easy to determine exactly who is at fault from this basic description. For example, were driver one’s tail lights functioning properly? Was driver three following at an unsafe distance? Did any of them have faulty brakes? Was anyone distracted by a cell phone or something similar?
Knowing what happened and who is at fault are obviously two very different things.
Establishing Fault In A Three-Car Accident In Pennsylvania
In the example above, driver one would most likely not be liable for anything that happened. Unless his brake lights were not functioning or he somehow did something else that prevented the other drivers from knowing that he was going to stop, he was doing everything the way he should. He was simply stopping for a red light.
Determining liability between driver two and driver three is a bit more complex. We’d need to determine who was injured or whose property was damaged and what portion of that damage was caused by each driver. To do this, Pennsylvania law uses what is known as comparative negligence.
With comparative negligence, each party involved in the accident will be assigned a percentage of the fault. For example, in the case of damages that would go to driver one, driver two might be found to be 80% responsible for those damages and driver three 20% responsible. So, if driver one were awarded $10,000 total in damages, driver two would have to pay $8,000 and driver three would pay $2,000.
To get a complete picture of who is responsible for what, individual injuries and damages would also need to be investigated separately. In the case of driver one, it would be necessary to determine how much of his total damage was caused by each driver two and driver three.
If driver two suffered injuries, it would first be necessary to determine if those injuries were caused by his collision with driver one, or by the second collision where driver three hit him. Furthermore, we’d need to know who’s fault it was that driver three crashed into driver two in order to know if driver three would be responsible for paying any damages at all.
Then, of course, we’d still need to look at what kinds of damages were suffered by driver three, whether he had any fault in the accident, and whether or not anyone else involved may have contributed to him becoming a part of the accident.
To say that there are a lot of variables and a lot of information to sort through is a vast understatement.
Have You Been Involved In A Three-Car Accident In Pennsylvania?
As you can see, determining and proving fault in an accident involving three or more cars is not a simple matter. Making an incorrect statement or leaving out a detail could leave you open to consequences that you shouldn’t be responsible for or deny you benefits that you are entitled to.
If you’ve been involved in an auto accident in Pennsylvania, you should speak with an experienced car accident lawyer who can protect your rights and help you to recover all the benefits you are legally entitled to.
At Solnick & Associates, we specialize in helping people who’ve been injured in auto accidents in Pennsylvania. Contact us online or call (877) 415-6495 to schedule a free consultation. We’ll be happy to go over the details of your case and discuss what we can do to help you.