Living in Tampa Bay, you’re probably no stranger to the number of car accidents that occur in our geographical location. I-4, I-275, the Howard Frankland Bridge, and the Courtney Campbell Causeway seem to hold daily contests to see which one will host the worst car crash during rush hour. In a worst-case scenario, people’s lives are at risk. In a best-case scenario, your 30-minute commute becomes a three-hour commute.
The situation is exacerbated when the accident involves multiple vehicles. Not only is the mess on the road greater it also raises questions about liability. Who is responsible for the accident? Who’s going to pay for all this damage?
What is a Multi-Vehicle Accident?
As the name states, a multi-vehicle accident is a type of car crash that involves several cars. This can take place in the form of a chain reaction collision or a pileup crash. They tend to happen more often on routes where drivers travel at higher speeds, such as freeways or busier roads, for example; the Dale Mabry Highway.
What typically happens is that either a car (Car A) will crash, and several vehicles behind that car won’t have enough distance between them to stop on time, so Car B crashes into Car A. Car C crashes into Car B. Car D crashes into car C. It could also happen the other way: A motor vehicle will rear-end a vehicle in front of them, pushing that vehicle to hit the car in front of them, who will then hit the car in front of them.
Who’s at fault?
In Florida, there’s a rebuttable presumption that the driver who rear-ended a vehicle in front of them is responsible for the accident. This is because the law requires drivers to leave reasonable space between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead of them. Failing to do so cuts the reaction time making it more difficult to avoid an accident.
The reason this presumption is rebuttable is that sometimes it’s possible to present evidence that the accident wasn’t your fault. For example, if you’re stopped in traffic and are rear-ended by the vehicle behind you, your car could be shoved forward, resulting in you rear-ending the vehicle in front of you. Whether by witness testimony, surveillance footage, or accident reconstruction, it would be reasonable for a jury to infer that the person in the middle is not at-fault for rear-ending the person in front of them.
Now, if you are the car in the middle and hitting the vehicle in front of you could’ve been prevented had you exercised more caution by leaving more distance between you and that car, then you would be considered partially responsible. This is because Florida is a comparative negligence jurisdiction. A Court will look at the totality of circumstances and apportion fault accordingly. If you were found to be 20% responsible for the damage caused to the car in front of you, then you are liable for 20% of their medical bills, property damage, lost wages, etc. By the same token, the driver behind you would be responsible for your damages in accordance with their percentage of negligence.
How can liability be established after a multi-vehicle accident in Florida?
There are many ways to reconstruct an accident after the fact, in order to establish liability. The most common ones include:
- Surveillance footage around the site of the accident
- Skid marks on the road
- Substantial tire damage that reflects sudden braking and skidding
- Witness accounts
- Medical evidence suggesting that the type of injuries sustained could have been caused by XYZ (e.g. a frontal collision, being rear-ended, traveling at a high speed, or if the driver suffered a medical episode prior to the crash, etc.)
- The condition of the roads (e.g., could the Department of Transportation be held partially liable?)
- Mechanical issues with the vehicle that collided first (thus making either the car manufacturer or the car’s mechanic partially liable)
Who’s at fault in a 3 car accident?
Three-vehicle crashes could be the result of a chain reaction accident, or a car turning at an intersection without yielding to oncoming traffic. When this type of accident occurs, there will be three different versions of events to assist the insurance companies involved with reconstructing the accident. And as with any type of motor vehicle accident claim, comparative negligence will come into play in order to apportion fault.
Was there a distracted driver? Was a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Did someone run a Stop sign? Every accident is different. Sometimes, one single driver is responsible for the accident. Other times, everyone involved holds a level of fault, and a court will determine liability accordingly.
Are there any available defenses to liability?
Yes. There are several defenses a Defendant or Defendants can raise in order to reduce their liability for an accident:
1. Comparative negligence (“Yes, I caused the accident, but your own negligence made your injuries worse”).
2. Unforeseeable emergency (for example, a street light or tree falls onto a road, or a person darts into traffic and a driver swerves to avoid it).
3. Mechanical issues, faulty tires, or brakes (and the driver couldn’t have reasonably known beforehand).
4. Acts of God (an unforeseen natural disaster)
How do “No Fault” Laws Affect Your Claim?
Although there are many factors that could determine liability, if your damages were minor, you could file what’s generally known as a PIP claim with your insurance company.
PIP is an acronym for Personal Injury Protection, and it stems from a Florida law that requires all car insurance policies to cover up to $10,000 in damages after a car accident, regardless of who was at fault for the crash.
Under PIP, insurance policies are required to cover 80% of the medical bills and 60% of lost wages for:
1. The named insured
2. Relatives who live in the same home as the insured
3. Persons driving the insured’s car
4. Passengers in the insured’s car
5. Other persons struck by the insured’s car
In order to receive these benefits, a person has to file their claim within 14 days from the date of the accident. While the insurance company has the right to investigate the claim, they have to provide funds within 30 days.
These damages have a cap of $10,000, and a claim must be filed within 14 days from the date of the accident. While the insurance company has the right to investigate the claim, they are obligated to provide funds within 30 days.
If your damages exceed $10,000, you can file a personal injury lawsuit (for all monies over $10,000) against anyone and everyone who could possibly be held responsible for the accident (other drivers who were involved, the Florida Department of Transportation, the car manufacturer, a motorcyclist who may have caused the accident in the first place, etc).
Contact Clark Law if You’ve Been Involved in a Car Accident
When you get into a car accident, the first thing to do is to seek medical attention. The second most important thing is to consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible in order to discuss the details of your crash and to determine the best course of action to recover damages.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.