In most car accidents, it can be easy to tell who is at fault — such as when a car runs a red light, blows through a stop sign, or turns the wrong way down a one-way street. But, the more cars involved in an accident, the more often that fault can be distributed amongst the drivers, and the more blurred the lines of fault become. A three-car pile-up is complex enough, but what happens when four vehicles are involved? How does fault change? And, is it possible to void any fault in a comparative negligence state, like Florida?
How to Determine Fault in a 4-Car Accident
A four-car accident occurs when four vehicles become involved in the incident — such as a chain-reaction accident where one car stops and the three cars behind all run into the first car and, in turn, each other. This can happen for a myriad of reasons, but ultimately, anyone who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle has a duty of care to other drivers on the road. This duty is breached by anything that would increase the risk of an accident, including:
- Taking your eyes off the road momentarily
- Driving at excessive speeds
- Failing to comply with traffic signs
- Running a red light
- Distracted driving
- Drowsy driving
- Stopping suddenly
- Knowingly driving a car that has a mechanical failure
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
It’s also important to note that Florida is a comparative negligence jurisdiction. This means that if anyone involved in the accident can be proven to have also been negligent — such as texting while driving, driving with a broken brake light, tailgating, or anything else that could cause more drivers to become involved in the accident — then their recovery will be decreased by their own percentage of fault.
Determining Fault for the Front Car
It’s often assumed that the front car is always the one responsible for a chain-reaction car accident, but sometimes that’s not the case. In order to prove who was at fault, you have to go through a legal process called discovery.
During this process, all parties to the action try to figure out what happened exactly. This includes — but is not limited to — requesting surveillance video (if available), mechanic records (if applicable), information about vehicle recalls (if applicable). If the accident was caused by poor road conditions, missing signs, poor visibility due to bad upkeep, etc, discovery will also involve taking photographs of the scene of the accident.
As the front car, it’s important that you document current road conditions, identify any obstacles that may have caused you to slow down or stop suddenly, and never apologize or admit fault to the other drivers involved — as this can be used against you. In some cases, the initial accident took place behind the front car. In this scenario, you’ll need to identify which vehicle was the initiator and prove that the car behind you was negligent, and that’s how they hit you.
Determining Fault for the Middle Cars
As with determining fault for the front car, the middle cars will also need to conduct a discovery process. Except, there are certain scenarios that can increase your chance of liability. While operating a motor vehicle, you should keep an optimal distance between you and the car in front of you. This helps prevent your car from hitting the vehicle in front if someone hits you from behind, but it also gives you a chance to stop if the vehicle in front of you suddenly stops.
As the middle car, you are not only potentially responsible for hitting the cars in front of you, but you can also be responsible for the damage done to the cars behind you. That’s why it’s important that you collect as much information as possible about the scene and never apologize or admit fault about your involvement.
Determining Fault for the Back Car
In addition to the discovery process, the back car will need to prove that they weren’t traveling fast enough to cause the vehicles in front of them to hit each other. As with the middle cars, the back car is responsible for leaving enough space between them and the cars in front of them. It’s considered negligence if that did not occur.
If the accident occurred because the back car was speeding and caused the other cars to wreck into each other, then it may be responsible for a portion of the fees to each vehicle. If, however, the back car was responding to a middle or front car stopping suddenly, then it may be less liable.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Lawyers will conduct the discovery process and may also want to schedule depositions of opposing parties, witnesses, and applicable experts (such as doctors and accident reconstruction experts) to determine fault. During a deposition, the lawyer prepares and asks a list of questions. The party who’s getting deposed has to answer them under penalty of perjury. The interrogation could last anywhere from a couple of minutes to several days. If the party being deposed has an attorney, their lawyer can object to any questions they don’t deem appropriate.
Once everything starts coming together, the parties start settlement negotiations. If there’s no settlement agreement, the case moves on to trial. At trial, your lawyer will present all the evidence they’ve collected during the discovery process to help you receive the maximum payout and void any liability on your part — if applicable. They’ll help you prepare and navigate your case. And, if you were at fault, they’ll ensure you receive the best possible outcome.
Call Clark Law If You’ve Been in a Car Accident in Tampa Bay
Every car accident is different. There are many factors that determine the drivers’ level of liability. Let’s discuss your case. We’ll look for ways to have all of your expenses covered — for present and future treatment — as long as they relate to the accident.
If you or someone you love has been involved in an accident, call us at (855) 680-4911 or schedule a free consultation. At Clark Law, we have experienced attorneys who regularly represent clients involved in motor vehicle accidents, and we can help you determine the best next step.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.