It’s a safe driver’s worst nightmare. It’s unavoidable, it’s unpredictable, and it’s unstoppable. It’s the other person on the road. Whether another driver is distracted, intoxicated, or just careless, his or her actions are completely outside your control. However, the effects of those actions can still put you and other drivers in harm’s way. It may not be your fault, but the danger is there.
Common sense dictates that if you are involved in a collision, the car that strikes another is probably responsible. For example, if you rear-end the car in front of you, you are most likely at fault for the damage to the other vehicle and the passengers inside. However, this is not always the case, particularly in multi-car collisions. For example, over the Fourth of July, there was a collision involving five cars on Highway 101. One car was overturned and a passenger had to be cut free of the wreckage. Seven were injured, five of whom were transported to local trauma centers to be treated for critical injuries.
After the initial concern for the injured, the question that most likely comes to mind for the drivers involved in such a collision is, “Who is responsible?” This can be a confusing question after an accident. The shock and emotion of a collision can distort a driver’s perception, cause details to seem fuzzy, and make it difficult to recall the series of events leading to the crash. A crash can leave you in a stupor that causes you to second-guess yourself and question whether you were responsible. In a multi-car collision, this can make you vulnerable to admitting responsibility even if you were not at fault.
Take the following scenario as an example. Let’s say you are driving down a highway, following the car in front of you at a reasonable distance. Suddenly, you are struck from behind by a third vehicle with enough force to cause your car to slam into the first. In the confusion of careening around the road, your dominant memory is of hitting the car in front of you. You may think that your role in the accident makes you responsible for the damage to that vehicle, but this is not necessarily the case. In an accident like the one on Highway 101, the state of California, like most states, uses a method called the chain of causation to determine fault in a multi-call collision. In a nutshell, this means that in an investigation, police trace fault for all the damage back to the driver who initiated the chain of events in the crash. Unless it is found that one of the other drivers in the collision contributed to the likelihood of an accident (for example, by following another car too closely), the one who started the chain reaction of collisions is at fault.
Because of this, it is very important that when you speak to police after a multi-car collision, you state only objective facts. Do not ever admit fault, because you may not actually be at fault, even if your car hit another. If you do admit fault, your statement becomes part of the official police report. Other drivers’ insurance companies can use this report in determining who pays for damages, and admitting fault makes you vulnerable to taking undue responsibility. It is also important to know that even if you have other citations on your record, these have no bearing on the issue of fault.
If you are in a multi-car collision and have questions about your role in the accident, or if you feel that you are wrongly accused of fault by another driver, contact an attorney who understands the nuances of motor vehicle law and can advise you of your rights.