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Multi-Car Collision in Michigan: Who is Liable?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

Determining fault in a multi-car accident can be a complex issue. Unlike a single-vehicle accident, multi-car accidents involve several vehicles, making it challenging to establish who is liable. The sequence of events that led up to a multi-vehicle accident, the actions of each driver, and the traffic and weather conditions are all crucial in determining fault.

Our experienced car accident lawyers at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. can help you investigate a multi-car collision in Michigan, find out who caused it, and pursue fair compensation for damages.

Common Multi-Car Accident Scenarios in Michigan

Accidents involving multiple cars can occur in a wide range of situations. Typical scenarios for collisions involving several vehicles include:

Head-On Collisions

Multi-car collisions often begin with a head-on crash, where one car drifts into the opposite lane and hits another vehicle. This initial crash can push the involved cars into other lanes, causing more collisions with other vehicles. Since roads have limited space and the cars are moving fast, it’s hard for drivers to avoid these situations, leading to bigger accidents involving multiple vehicles. Head-on collisions caused 10.9% of auto crash fatalities in the U.S. in 2021.

Side Impact Collisions

Side-impact crashes are also known as angle collisions or T-bone accidents. They involve one vehicle crashing its front end into another’s side, resulting in a T shape at the moment of impact. These crashes can escalate into multi-vehicle accidents.

For example, the initial crash might obstruct the roadway, causing other drivers to swerve unexpectedly and collide with nearby vehicles or road barriers. The debris from a side impact crash can spread across multiple lanes, creating hazards that result in collisions as drivers attempt to avoid unexpected obstacles.

The force of a side impact can propel a vehicle into the path of oncoming traffic, leading to additional crashes that worsen the incident.

Rear-End Accidents

A rear-end collision occurs when a vehicle crashes into the back of a car in front. Rear-end crashes accounted for 7.5% of all deadly traffic accidents in 2021. In 2022, there were 64,220 rear-end crashes in Michigan, with 82 being fatal.

Rear-end accidents often lead to multi-vehicle pileups, especially on highways where vehicles travel at high speeds and close distances. When a car comes to a sudden stop and is hit from behind, the impact can push it into another vehicle, initiating a chain reaction.

Following too closely or driving while distracted raises the chances of rear-end crashes. When drivers don’t see traffic slowing down ahead, they may hit the car in front of them without reducing speed. This can lead to a chain reaction of crashes involving several vehicles.

Chain Reaction Accidents

Chain reaction accidents start with one collision that causes other vehicles to collide due to the force of the initial impact. They usually occur in areas where cars are close together, like traffic-jammed highways and narrow roads.

For example, two vehicles stop on the road. If a driver crashes into one of them from behind, the force of the collision can push the hit vehicle forward, causing it to collide with the other stopped vehicle.

Chain reaction accidents often result in rollovers due to the force and location of the impact, which is more common in multi-vehicle accidents.

Pileup Car Accidents

Pileup car accidents involve a large number of vehicles colliding in a tight space, leading to a complex tangle of wrecked cars. These large-scale collisions can happen quickly, often triggered by low visibility, bad weather, and heavy traffic.

For instance, during heavy rain, the combination of slick roads, reduced visibility, and vehicles traveling too closely together can cause a chain reaction accident where cars pile-up quickly. A driver’s inability to see and react to a sudden stop or obstacle ahead can lead to successive impacts, as following vehicles crash into the initial accident site. This creates a large-scale pileup involving several vehicles and serious injuries.

Intersection Collisions

The Federal Highway Administration states that over 50% of fatal and injury-related accidents occur near intersections. Vehicles traveling at high speeds through intersections can cause the following collisions:

  • Right-angle accidents involving drivers failing to yield the right of way to another driver
  • Left-turn accidents are collisions with drivers turning left onto oncoming traffic going straight or turning right
  • Head-on collisions as two vehicles traveling in opposite directions collide at high speeds

Accidents Due to Road Hazards

Sometimes car accidents occur due to road hazards such as uneven or damaged roads, debris, and objects falling from construction sites or other vehicles. If a driver swerves or brakes suddenly due to debris or dangers like potholes, they may cause an accident with another driver following too closely or not paying attention.

Multi-Car Accidents: Common Causes

Like single-vehicle and two-vehicle crashes, many elements can contribute to a multi-car accident. These include:

Poor Weather Conditions

Bad weather plays a role in traffic accidents, including those involving multiple vehicles. In Michigan, for example, drivers often face roads covered with snow and ice in the winter. Like fog and rain, these conditions reduce traction and increase the distance needed to stop, making it more difficult to avoid obstacles and raising the likelihood of multi-car pile-ups.

Alcohol

Alcohol diminishes important cognitive abilities necessary for safe driving, including reaction speed, decision-making, and the ability to judge distances and space. Drivers under the influence of alcohol might fail to respond in time to slowing traffic, weave through lanes recklessly, or act unpredictably on the road. These behaviors increase the risk of multi-vehicle collisions, as other drivers might not be able to predict or evade the erratic actions of a driver impaired by alcohol.

According to the CDC, alcohol-related crashes result in nearly 10,000 deaths annually in the United States. From 2009 to 2018, 2,541 people were killed in crashes involving drunk drivers in Michigan.

Reckless Driving

Several driving behaviors and actions can put others at risk and heighten the chances of a multi-vehicle accident, particularly in dense traffic. Acts of road recklessness often seen include speeding, aggressive driving, and following too closely.

Speeding extends the distance needed to brake, complicating the ability to navigate around obstacles or hazards. Aggressive driving behaviors, such as abruptly cutting off other cars or changing lanes without signaling, endanger everyone on the road. Following too closely, or tailgating, reduces the space needed to safely stop or slow down if the vehicle in front suddenly brakes, increasing the likelihood of a collision.

These practices significantly raise the probability of being involved in a multi-vehicle crash.

Time of Day

Higher traffic periods, particularly during morning and late afternoon rush hours, correlate with a greater chance of multi-vehicle accidents. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the most dangerous time for car accidents is from 4 p.m. to 7:59 p.m., aligning with the evening commute.

The combination of a large number of vehicles on the road, along with different levels of driver tiredness and distraction, sets the stage for an increased likelihood of multi-car collisions.

Factors That Complicate Determining Liability

In fender benders, for example, fault is determined by investigating the accident and analyzing evidence to see what or who caused it. Liability typically falls on the party or parties that acted negligently in some way.

However, establishing fault in multi-car collisions can be more complex. Several factors can complicate the investigation and make identifying the initial cause difficult:

Lack of Witnesses

Unbiased eyewitness testimony is critical in providing accident details and clarifying conflicting stories between drivers. Without eyewitness statements, attorneys and insurance companies may struggle to determine liability and assign fault in the accident based on conflicting drivers’ accounts and physical evidence.

Conflicting Reports

Insurance adjusters evaluate the credibility of each driver’s account to identify the more reliable and accurate one. They examine how consistent the drivers’ statements are with each other and whether any injuries occurred. When drivers provide conflicting accounts, it may lead to a subjective decision on who is at fault for the accident.

Complex Traffic Scenarios

In complex traffic situations, figuring out who is at fault in multi-car accidents can be challenging. This is particularly true for crashes at busy intersections or when a car moves across several lanes unexpectedly.

The confusion over who had the right of way or whose action led to the accident requires a detailed investigation. Legal experts and reconstructionist specialists are often needed to untangle the sequence of events. They analyze every aspect of the crash, from traffic light status to driver behavior, to determine who is responsible.

Weather Conditions

Slippery roads, reduced visibility, and other weather conditions can make it difficult to assign blame accurately. For instance, the cause of a collision on an icy road may be challenging to determine, such as whether one driver was speeding and caused the accident or if the crash was due to an uncontrollable weather-related hazard.

Levels of Liability

In multi-car accidents, there may be varying levels of liability, adding another layer of complexity to fault determination. This means that more than one driver might be partially responsible for the accident, each contributing to the chain of events in different ways.

For instance, one driver’s sudden stop might cause a rear-end collision. At the same time, another driver’s excessive speed or failure to maintain a safe following distance could worsen the situation, leading to a pileup.

Establishing fault involves analyzing each driver’s actions and how they contributed to the accident. Then, an insurer must divide fault among the parties based on their degree of responsibility, which can lead to legal disputes and complex claims.

Fault in a Multi-Car Accident in Michigan

Comparative Negligence in Multi-Car Accidents

Comparative negligence divides the blame among drivers in a multi-car accident according to how much each contributed to the crash. This approach means if more than one driver acted negligently, each is responsible for a part of the accident based on their actions.

Comparative negligence helps to fairly decide who pays for the damages, considering everyone’s role in the accident. There are two types of comparative negligence used in the U.S.:

  • Pure comparative negligence. Plaintiffs can recover damages regardless of their degree of fault in the accident. Their percentage of fault proportionally reduces the amount they can receive. For example, you are 30% liable, while the other party is 70% at fault. You could win damages, but the final payout would be reduced by 30%.
  • Modified comparative negligence. Used in Michigan, this doctrine is similar to pure comparative fault in that it reduces damage awards by the parties’ percentage of responsibility for the crash.
    However, with modified comparative negligence, you can only recover damages if your degree of fault is at or below a particular threshold, typically 50% or 51%. For instance, if you were 52% at fault in a multi-vehicle crash, you could not receive a settlement for your injuries.

Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence is another legal principle used to calculate damages after an accident in the United States. Under the contributory negligence model, a plaintiff may not recover damages if they have any degree of fault in the accident, even if it is 1%.

Unlike the more common pure and modified comparative negligence models, contributory negligence is used less frequently. States such as Virginia and Alabama are among the few that adopt this approach to negligence.

Your Legal Rights When You’re the Victim

Michigan has a number of legal protections in place for people who have been in car accidents in the state. These protections cover rights related to filing auto collision claims and going through legal proceedings:

  • Right to pursue compensation. As an accident victim, you are entitled to seek compensation for all damages suffered. This includes medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, ongoing therapy or medication costs, pain, and suffering.
  • Right to legal representation. You have the right to hire a lawyer to represent and protect your interests, help you navigate the legal system, and advocate on your behalf.
  • Right to sue. You have the right to file a lawsuit against the at-fault parties to pursue compensation if damages exceed your personal injury protection insurance or your injuries meet the state’s serious injury threshold.
  • Right to a fair investigation. As a victim in a car accident, you have the right to a fair and comprehensive investigation of the events to determine who was at fault and to what degree.
  • Right to refuse quick settlements. You are entitled to refuse quick offers from insurance providers, especially if you don’t believe they will fully cover your damages. Consult with your attorney at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. before accepting any offer.

Your Legal Rights if At Fault

Many parties can be found at fault in a multi-car accident, even to a minor degree. While being at fault changes some of your responsibilities, you still have access to certain rights:

  • Right to legal representation. All parties in an accident, including those at fault, have the right to hire an attorney to defend their interests, determine and minimize liability, and navigate the legal procedure.
  • Right to insurance defense. You have the right to hire an attorney to protect your interests and claims against your liability insurance. This can lower your percentage of fault and prevent a premium increase.
  • Right to challenge fault determination. You can contest the determination or degree of fault assigned to you if you believe it is inaccurate. This can include gathering and submitting additional evidence and witness statements to support your position.
  • Right to negotiate settlements. You may negotiate the terms of any settlement personally, through your insurance provider, or with the help of your attorney.
  • Right to settlement confidentiality. If you settle with the other parties, you have the right to request confidentiality regarding the settlement terms.

Obtaining Compensation for Your Injuries in a Multi-Vehicle Accident in Michigan

Michigan is a no-fault state, meaning every driver benefits from their personal injury protection (PIP) insurance company regardless of who is at fault. However, in multi-vehicle accidents, more than one driver can be at fault.

If you sustained severe injuries from your accident, you can file a third-party claim against the other drivers for your financial losses. Compensation options after a car accident in Michigan:

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Your PIP insurance is responsible for paying your medical expenses and lost income after a crash. These benefits cover:

  • Medical bills and rehabilitation costs
  • Work loss benefits for up to three years (up to 85% of your average weekly wages up to the state thresholds)
  • Up to $20 per day in household replacement services and attendant care

Third-Party Claims

Michigan law allows you to recover compensation for non-economic damages if you sustained a permanent disability or disfigurement in the accident. You must have suffered a serious or permanent impairment of a critical body function to qualify for a third-party claim.

Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional distress. These damages require careful consideration of your medical records, statements from family and friends, and expert medical testimony.

An experienced attorney from Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. can help you understand your rights after a multi-car crash. Our lawyers will complete a full investigation of your accident, enlisting the help of accident reconstructionists and forensic specialists to determine what led to the crash. This allows us to accurately determine fault so you can file a successful claim to receive compensation for your damages.

Additionally, you can benefit from the specialized medical expertise of Eileen Kroll, a registered nurse and our senior partner attorney. Her background in healthcare allows Eileen to evaluate your injuries and calculate a fair compensation amount, taking into account both your present and future damages.

Steps to Take After a Multi-Car Accident

Determining fault in a multi-car accident requires gathering all available evidence when investigating multi-car collisions. Take the following steps after a crash to protect your rights and preserve evidence that our attorneys can use to support your claim:

  • Report the accident. Call emergency services if other drivers and passengers are hurt, and ask the operator to dispatch police to the accident scene.
  • Take pictures of the accident. Document the accident by taking pictures and video of all the vehicles, road conditions, and weather conditions at the scene.
  • Schedule an appointment with your doctor. Seek medical attention immediately, even if you don’t think you’ve been seriously injured. Keep records of all medical treatments and expenses related to the accident.
  • File your claim with your auto insurer. Notify your insurance company of the accident and provide them with the required information or documentation so you can receive PIP benefits.
  • Call an attorney. Contact a skilled attorney with experience handling multi-vehicle accident cases to help determine fault and protect your legal rights. The earlier you contact our team, the sooner we can preserve evidence, investigate your accident, and negotiate with insurers for a fair settlement.

Get Help from an Experienced Michigan Multi-Car Crash Lawyer

When you’ve been hurt in a multi-vehicle accident in Michigan, the attorneys at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. can help you file for PIP benefits and pursue third-party claims.

Our attorneys will help you understand your legal options, including whether you may be entitled to compensation for non-economic damages after suffering severe injuries. Contact us today for a free case review.

Our contingency fee basis means we only get paid if we win your case, so there is no financial risk to you to get started. Call our law firm today at 1-866-MICH-LAW  and schedule your no-obligation, free consultation.

FAQs

What is a Multi-Car Accident?

A multi-car accident is a type of car crash involving three or more vehicles in a sequence of collisions or a simultaneous pileup. Most multi-car accidents occur on roads and highways with heavy traffic.

Who is to Blame in a Multi-Car Accident?

Liability in multi-car accidents requires a thorough review of the events, including a comprehensive investigation of each involved driver’s actions up to the crash. Many multi-car accidents have several responsible parties, often with varying degrees of fault.

What Should You Do if Involved in an Accident With More Than One Vehicle?

If you were involved in a multi-car accident, follow these steps:

  • Contact emergency services if you or anyone else is hurt
  • Report the accident to local law enforcement and request a copy of the police report
  • Document the accident scene with photos and videos, including your own injuries and damage to your vehicle, if applicable
  • Exchange information with all involved parties and request witness testimony if possible
  • Report the accident to your insurance provider
  • Contact a knowledgeable car accident lawyer to navigate your legal rights and options

Who Pays Restitution in an Accident With Multiple Cars?

Although the number of responsible parties and their percentage of fault may vary in a multi-car accident, the insurance providers are typically responsible for paying restitution to the victims.

In Michigan, each driver’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy should cover damages up to their respective limits. For damages not covered by PIP, the at-fault driver’s personal insurance policy may apply instead.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Jasmine Holt is a freelance writer specializing in legal content marketing for attorneys and law firms. She hopes to provide better legal advice to the general public using her previous experience working with a franchise company and a law firm. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and traveling.

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