Hypothetical legal scenarios usually sound fairly straightforward. What happens when X steals from Y? What happens when X physically assaults Y? What happens when X builds a garage that overlaps with Y’s property boundary?
But in the real world, legal scenarios are rarely so simple. Take multi-car accidents, for example. What happens when driver A rear-ends driver B, who in turn rear-ends driver C, which forces driver C’s car through a crosswalk where it injures pedestrian D? It’s easy to see how situations like these can be confusing when it comes to determining liability!
Before we continue, we must forewarn that automobile collisions are a complex field of law. Every case has unique variables to consider, which is why an auto accident attorney cannot reasonably theorize who is at fault for a real-world multi-car collision without carefully studying the surrounding facts. Individual states’ laws also bear heavily on assignment of liability for auto collisions. That said, the following examples are intended to give you a good idea of who is likely to be held liable in various hypothetical situations.
Scenario 1: Your Car Is Rear-Ended
The majority of rear-end collisions occur when the trailing driver fails to maintain sufficient control over their vehicle. When that is the case, the trailing driver is in violation of state law (even if they lost control over their car as a result of rain or icy road conditions) and can be held liable for injuries and property damage sustained by the leading car’s driver and passengers.
But the trailing driver isn’t necessarily liable for a rear-end collision. The leading driver may instead be held responsible if their brake lights malfunctioned, and therefore failed to give the trailing driver sufficient warning of their intention to decelerate or stop. The trailing driver may also be unaccountable for the collision if the leading driver’s car stopped abruptly due to a mechanical breakdown, or if the leading driver makes an unnecessary “quick stop”, such as in a road-rage scenario. Furthermore, if the leading driver had to stop suddenly in order to avoid striking a jaywalking pedestrian, then the pedestrian may bear partial or total responsibility for the collision.
If the trailing driver causes an accident while they are in the process of working for their employer, then the employer may be held responsible (a testament to the importance of commercial auto insurance). It is also possible, though unlikely, for the municipal or state government to be held accountable if they failed to design, build, or maintain the road safely.
Scenario 2: Your Car Is Struck Head-On
Head-on collisions accounted for the majority of passenger vehicle deaths in 2017. Determining fault for this type of collision is often straightforward, as it typically belongs to the driver who departed from their lane or entered wrong-way traffic as a result of negligence, inattention, or intoxication.
But if you are involved in a front-end collision, responsibility doesn’t necessarily reside with the driver of the car that struck your car. It is possible the other driver was rear-ended by a different motorist and had zero control over their vehicle when it front-ended your own. In this scenario liability would most likely be attributed to the rear-ending driver.
It is also possible that the other driver lost control when faced with an emergency situation. For example, suppose the other driver struck the front end of your vehicle because their alternative was to run over a jaywalker, then the jaywalker may potentially bear liability for the collision. The striking driver may still be liable if they made a negligent the decision to cross the centerline when there were safer alternatives. As discussed, the real world presents many variables that can substantially affect who bears liability for a collision!
3. Your Car Is Sandwiched
Suppose you stop at a traffic light. Another vehicle is positioned in front of your own. Then a third vehicle strikes your car’s rear end, forcing you to rear-end the vehicle in front of you as a result. Technically your car damaged another during this three-way collision – but does that make you liable for that driver’s damages?
Probably not. The driver who struck you would likely be liable, even though their vehicle did not technically touch the foremost driver’s.
4. If you bear partial fault, you may still make a recovery
Suppose you are struck at an intersection, where the intersecting driver entered against your right-of-way. However, a download the event recorder in your car confirms you were exceeding the speed limit at the time of the crash. In that event, you would likely bear some contributory negligence: a common law tort rule that bars plaintiffs from recovering for the negligence of others if they too were negligent in causing the harm.
Minnesota has adopted a comparative fault system, meaning that you may still bring a claim, as long as your fault does not exceed that of the driver against whom you bring the claim. Let us suppose a jury finds you 10% at fault for speeding and fixes your damages at $100,000.00. In that event, you would still be entitled to receive $90,000.00 in your claim ($100,000.00 less 10% for comparative fault).
If you have been involved in a multi car accident, then you probably already have a reasonably good idea of who is to blame. But determining liability for any auto collision and assessing fault among multiple drivers is a nuanced process that demands the best work of an experienced auto collision attorney.
If you have been involved in an accident in the state of Minnesota and believe you are owed compensation for your pain and financial losses, then we welcome you to contact Kiernan Personal Injury Attorneys today for a free, zero-obligation consultation. We fight for our clients’ rights every day!