Who Is Financially Liable in a California Multi-Car Accident?

Multi-Car Pileup accident on highway

With the number of cars and amount of congestion on the California freeways, it is not uncommon on any given day to pass by an accident involving three, four, or five or more cars, trucks, or motorcycles. We hope that we will be able to avoid ever being in one of those multi-car accidents, but should the day come that you do find yourself in a large accident, it is important to understand how financial liability is worked out among the parties in such an accident in California.

Negligence Is a Prerequisite to Liability

In order to win recovery in a lawsuit over a car, truck, or motorcycle accident in California, you will have to show that another party was negligent in causing the accident. What this means specifically is that you will need to be able to produce enough evidence to convince a jury that it is more likely the case than not that another party acted unreasonably under the circumstances and that his actions presented a foreseeable risk of harm to you.

Common ways in which another driver acts unreasonably and is thus potentially negligent include:

  • Speeding
  • Changing lanes unsafely and/or without turn signals
  • Distracted driving (e.g. texting)
  • Drunk, drugged, or drowsy driving
  • Failure to maintain the car (e.g. faulty brakes)

Note that, although convincing a jury is the ultimate standard for proving your case, the vast majority of auto accident cases will never go in front of a jury and will settle out of court based on the sufficiency of the evidence.

When Multiple Parties Are Negligent

Based on the above, the basic answer to who is liable in a multi-car accident is that the driver who is negligent will be liable, but there may be situations in which more than one party is liable. For example, if one driver was texting and did not notice another driver negligently change lanes in front of them without leaving proper space, and the result is a car accident in which both those cars and your car are in a pile-up, then both other drivers will be negligent and thus liable to you.

In such a situation, the law will apportion liability for your damages based on the percentage of fault. In the above example, a jury might decide that the texting driver was 60% at fault and the lane-changing driver was 40% at fault. Thus, the texting driver would have to pay 60% of your damages (including medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and car damage) and the other driver would pay 40% of those damages.

When You Are Negligent as Well

In a situation in which you were also negligent, then you can still pursue a negligence claim against other negligent drivers, and your recovery will be diminished by the percentage of fault applicable to you. If we take the above example, and say that you were the texting driver in that situation, and there was only one other party – the lane-changing driver – you could pursue your claim against the other driver but your recovery will be reduced by the 60% of fault apportioned to you. Thus, if you experienced $200,000 in damages, you could still recover $80,000 in damages against the other driver for his 40% of liability.

By working with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as an accident occurs, you can quickly determine who was at fault in causing the accident and put your best case forward for recovery while effectively responding to allegations that you were solely or primarily at fault in causing the accident.

Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys in the Inland Empire

At McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, our personal injury team – led by by partner Cory Weck, a Marine Corps officer with over 20 years of service to his country and 15 years of experience litigating personal injury cases – has repeatedly won verdicts and settlements on behalf of clients across the Inland Empire in the millions of dollars. Our car accident attorneys understand that the fear, anxiety, and pain that you and your family are going through following a personal injury, and we are dedicated to doing everything we can to help our clients get the help they need. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.

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