In general, in rear-end collisions, the driver that gets hit is the victim. This is because every driver is required to keep control of his or her car. However, this becomes confusing in chain car accidents. The law looks at a chain car accident as a series of smaller accidents. A driver can be a victim in one accident, but the person at fault in another. This is easier to understand if you imagine an accident. The theoretical accident has four cars. Car one is involved in only one accident, when it is hit by car two. Car two is at fault in this accident, almost without exception. Now, car two is hit by car three. In THIS accident, car two is the victim, and car three is at fault. Car three gets hit by car four. Car three is the victim in this portion of the accident. The driver of car four is not a victim at all. In a four car chain accident, there are three drivers who are victims, and three drivers who are at fault.
If a chain car accident is really a series of accidents, how can financial liability be determined? The concept of liability is founded in tort law. Each of the accidents will have 100% liability determined. In the first mini-accident, the liability is distributed 0% for car one, and 100% for car two. Remember, the first car bears no liability. Again, this is the law in most states, and it is quite clear. A great deal will depend on the road conditions at the time. In the other mini-accidents, the circumstances and the events that occur can make a big difference in who pays for what, but the total liability for the accident will come to 100% and the liability will be distributed between the parties. If visibility was difficult and the road was slick, drivers who were going at a speed reasonable for the conditions will bear less liability than a driver who was speeding and is thus negligent. If one of the drivers is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, that driver will bear a higher percentage of the liability. If one of the drivers can prove there was a mechanical failure of some kind, that driver may avoid some of the liability.
In the case of mechanical failures, it is possible that some of the responsibility would shift to the manufacturer of the car or cars, or the maker of the parts that failed. Other things can occur that might take partial liability away from drivers. Perhaps one of the cars was hit with snowballs, or paintballs, and the vision was immediately obscured. In a case like this, liability can shift to someone that was not even involved in the accident.
To limit liability in a chain car accident it is critical to identify witnesses, and get their name, address, and telephone numbers. In today’s You-Tube world, see if anyone got video! This can make a tremendous difference in establishing liability. Write down everything that happened in the accident, and have anyone in the car write down their recollections. Use a cell phone to take on-the-spot pictures of each of the cars, before they are moved. Use a cell phone to call your insurance company immediately. Make sure the company hears about the accident from you, not from someone claiming you hit them. Finally, cooperate with law enforcement.
The insurance companies that are involved may have attorneys that will support drivers in chain car accidents. If not, and there were injuries, consider getting your own attorney. In addition, remember: police officers are human and if this goes to court, there is a human tendency to remember pleasant people more favorably than those who are angry or yelling. Do everything you can to limit your liability and to ensure a good outcome.