Liability for Three-Car Accidents
Nothing ruins a Florida road trip like a crash on the highway. From the moment of impact, your mind shifts from sunny skies to injuries, damages, and questions about fault. When three or more vehicles come together accidentally, the situation is even more stressful. By nature, multi-vehicle crashes increase the number of parties involved, damages, and injuries. Liability issues become far more complicated. Fortunately, as a vehicle operator, no one expects you to sort through the facts and determine who pays what. Read on to learn what a car accident attorney at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can do for you.
Multi-Car Accidents Happen More Often Than You Think
Multi-car accidents occur when you least expect them. Perhaps you’ve been involved in a crash with two or more vehicles. If not, you need only check the news to find a story about multiple vehicles crashing into one another. Not all multi-car accidents are as deadly as four crashes discussed below, but liability issues are often just as complicated.
- A three-car accident occurred on State Rt 40 near Northeast 25th Avenue in Ocala. Of the three vehicles involved, two overturned and the impact ejected two victims. Authorities freed a driver who was trapped in his car and pinned against a tree. One person died at the scene.
- A three-car accident on the Florida Turnpike near Deerfield Creek left one man dead. A local news source reported that a driver lost control, veering into the center lane across the path of another vehicle. After spinning out of control, both vehicles came to a stop in the path of a third vehicle. When the third vehicle struck one of the stopped vehicles, it spun again and struck the other vehicle again. The Florida Highway Patrol explained that speed, darkness, and wet pavement contributed to the accident.
- A three-vehicle accident occurred on the Davie Boulevard Bypass at I-95 in Fort Lauderdale. By the time one of the involved vehicles came to a stop, it was atop another car. One person died in the crash and two sustained injuries.
- A tractor-trailer driver died after he caused a chain reaction involving two additional tractor-trailers. Two of the trucks were stopped at an intersection when the third failed to stop. He struck one truck in the rear pushing it into the truck it was following. The driver who caused the chain reaction sustained fatal injuries.
Based on the initial facts, it’s not easy to tell exactly what happened in any of these accidents. That’s often the case when multiple vehicles crash. In addition to driving behaviors, other factors such as speeding, DUI, weather, and visibility contributed to the severity of these accidents. Because several of the involved parties died, no one may ever know the full stories.
Sometimes More Than One Driver Shares Liability
As with all accidents, negligence determines a driver’s legal liability for accident damages. At some point, a person must decide who was negligent and who wasn’t. Making that determination is rarely a simple task. It may be easier to determine when a single moving car strikes two stationary vehicles. Even then, it’s difficult to assess 100 percent of the fault against a single driver.
As with the three large commercial trucks in the above incident, accidents sometimes occur due to simple chain reactions. One car stops suddenly or is already stopped but the vehicle or vehicles behind them don’t stop in time. A three-car accident can also involve a highway pile-up, with vehicles spinning out of control simultaneously in adverse weather conditions. Some scenarios indicate that a single driver caused the entire incident. Potentially responsible parties must recognize that multi-car accidents often have more than one contributing factor. For example:
- When a driver runs a traffic light, a speeding driver in another vehicle won’t have time to stop.
- Drivers have a duty to avoid an existing crash. That can’t happen if they are too distracted to see what’s going on and react in time.
- Drinking and drug use slow a driver’s reaction time. Driving under the influence limits a driver’s opportunity to minimize an impact or avoid it altogether.
- Some drivers slow down and roll through stop signs instead of fully stopping. The momentum makes it easier for a vehicle to continue rolling into another car after being struck.
- When confronted with an impending accident, inexperienced drivers sometimes panic and fail to take evasive actions.
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Who Decides Who Pays After a Three-Car Accident?
Three-car accidents trigger a response from the individual drivers and a network of professionals with an interest in the outcome. Interested parties may include police officers, insurance companies, self-insured businesses, personal injury attorneys, mediators, arbitrators, judges, and juries. Each party represents varying interests. Ultimately, some or all of the interested parties will determine or influence the decision about who pays for the damages.
A police officer has no direct involvement in deciding who pays for damages, but a police report influences the outcome. Police officers are one of the few people in a position of authority at an accident scene. They discuss the accident with every driver, call emergency services for injured passengers, and seek information from impartial witnesses. Police officers verify the facts based on what they see and hear when they arrive on the scene. When a driver was drunk, speeding, or clearly violated a law before an accident occurred, an officer will issue a citation. The citation then becomes a part of the formal record.
As officers rarely witness an accident, their reports typically document observable facts and give an opinion as to who is responsible. If the facts and physical evidence are supportive, they sometimes include their opinion on fault in the formal report.
Insurance companies usually pay for injuries or damages due to accidents caused by those they insure. Because of their financial interest, insurance companies have the right and the duty to decide if they should pay a claim. Additionally, they will determine how much they are willing to pay. When you file a claim, your insurance company’s representative conducts an investigation. The investigation will determine if you are legally responsible. If you are liable, they pay only those damages covered by your policy.
- Collision Coverage. This coverage pays for the damages to your car.
- Property Damage Liability. Property damage coverage pays for damage to other vehicles if your insurance company decides you are at fault.
- Personal Injury Protection Coverage. PIP coverage pays your medical bills, lost wages, and other injury-related benefits.
- Liability Coverage: Liability coverage pays for the damages you must legally pay when you cause injury to another driver or his passengers. Your liability coverage applies only if an injured person’s injuries are severe enough to meet the thresholds outlined in Florida 627.737.
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage. UM coverage pays if a driver is liable for your injuries but leaves the scene unidentified or has no liability insurance. UIM coverage pays when a negligent driver has insurance but not enough to pay for your injuries.
Your insurance company investigates and evaluates liability claims with a separate reserve that considers the negligence and injuries of all parties. They consider all of the factors, determine who is legally responsible, and decide their liability percentage.
For example, consider an accident where one driver was speeding, the other was under the influence of alcohol, and you were distracted by a phone call. Your insurance company could decide that you were only partially responsible for the resulting damages. They would evaluate and reserve their cases accordingly. Insurance representatives establish a claim reserve and wait for an opportunity to contribute to the other parties’ settlements. They expect the other two drivers to contribute to the payment of damages based on their negligence.
When a business self-insures its liability losses, they make the payment decisions. A self-insured entity determines legal responsibilities and pays legally owed damages out of company funds. Self-insured commercial entities investigate accident claims just as an insurance carrier would. Some companies maintain a claims investigator on staff. Others assign cases to independent investigators or adjustment companies.
Personal Injury Attorneys
Personal injury attorneys influence insurance companies’ and self-insured entities’ payment decisions. They conduct their own investigations and evaluate their clients’ damages based on injuries, legal issues, and judgment potential. When it’s time to settle, attorneys present their documentation and negotiate a settlement that covers their clients’ damages.
When an insurance company or self-insured entity fails to negotiate reasonably, attorneys seek to resolve their clients’ cases. They may choose to pursue mediation, arbitration, or trial.
When insurance companies, attorneys, and self-insured entities get stuck in negotiations, sometimes mediation helps move the process forward. A mediator doesn’t decide how much money an injured person should receive or how much an insurance company should pay them. They simply facilitate the negotiation process by bringing the disputing parties together. Mediators moderate settlement negotiation and encourage participants to resolve their issues outside of a courtroom.
When injury cases remain unresolved, attorneys often file a lawsuit. A lawsuit allows an attorney to place critical liability and damage issues before the court. If negotiations stall, an attorney must file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs. As the lawsuit proceeds through the courts, a judge encourages the parties to negotiate their differences with minimal court intervention. If the parties cannot resolve their differences, the judge often moves the process forward by requiring settlement conferences, mediations, or arbitrations.
If the issues remain unresolved, a judge will set a trial date so the attorneys can try the case. A judge can conduct a bench trial. That means they hear the case alone, rule on the issues, and issue a judgment ordering responsible parties to pay.
If the adverse parties want to try the case before a jury, the judge presides over a jury trial. Before, during, and after the trial, a judge provides instructive information to the jury members about legal issues and procedures. The members of the jury decide who should receive payment and how much they should receive.
Your Role in the Decision-Making Process
As a driver involved in an accident, you don’t decide who gets paid. However, you have a great influence over the ultimate outcome. Your important role begins at the accident scene. You can connect with the other drivers before anyone else. What you do and say immediately following an accident will ultimately influence your insurance company’s decision to pay or not pay.
Be Careful What You Say and Do At a Car Accident Scene
Keep your emotions in check so you don’t jeopardize your legal rights. You can change the outcome of a claim if you say or do something the other driver can use against you.
- Don’t admit fault. Don’t make a judgment call about fault at an accident scene. Admitting fault jeopardizes your liability claim against the other drivers. It also encourages your insurance company to pay the other drivers’ damage and injury claims.
- Don’t get angry. You come across as out of control and people will believe that you’re at fault.
- No spontaneous apologies. An apology makes you sound as though you did something to cause the accident.
- Stick to the facts. When the police officer asks a question, never speculate or guess when you answer. Give only facts such as your name, address, and what you were doing when the accident occurred.
Get as Much Information as You Can About Your Car Accident
A lot can happen before a police officer shows up to investigate your accident. If the other drivers are blocking the flow of traffic, they will likely move their vehicles. Witnesses often walk away. If they stay, they might not talk to a policeman when he arrives. Also, drivers sometimes leave the scene.
While waiting for the police to arrive, you have access to the scene, the vehicles, the drivers, and any witnesses. If you’re physically capable, exit your vehicle and walk around the accident scene. Use your cell camera as a tool for gathering information.
- Get photos of the vehicles’ resting positions. Show areas of contact and old damage.
- Get the drivers’ names and insurance information by taking photos of their driver’s licenses and insurance cards.
- Ask bystanders if they witnessed the accident. Get their names and contact information for your insurance company.
- Take photos of the area, including traffic signs, intersections, traffic lights, and other details that are relevant to the accident.
Be Careful When You Report Your Claim to Your Insurance Company
Your insurance company will begin their investigation based on the point of view you express in your initial claim report. When making a claim, stick to the facts but also make it clear if you believe you’re not at fault. If you gathered additional information at the scene, explain what you have and make it available. Again, your cell makes it easy to share information and photos. The information you provide can help the insurance company make their decision to pay or not pay.
Should You Contact an Attorney?
When you’re injured in any type of accident, you should immediately contact a personal injury attorney for guidance. When an accident involves three or more vehicles, injuries, damages, and legal complications multiply. Attorneys do whatever is necessary to protect your legal rights.
During an initial consultation, a personal injury attorney discusses your accident, listens to your concerns, and explains your legal options. You don’t have to make a commitment but when you’re ready an attorney can help move your case forward.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765