Multiple motor vehicle accidents can be very complex as to the determination of fault. As a Cincinnati personal injury lawyer I have settled or litigated many claims where more than two motor vehicles were involved. If you do not get the proprer negligent parties in the case, the other defendants may point the finger at the so called "empty chair." Given that Ohio's joint and several liability statute allows only a partial recovery, in most cases you could end up with little or nothing if you have not gotten the correct defendants into the case. http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2307.22
The Most Common Multiple Vehicle Traffic Crash
The most common multiple vehicle traffic crash is the rear end collision where the lead car stops and two or more vehicles behind the lead car crash into each other. The car immediately behind the lead car crashes into the rear of the lead car. However, the car behind the second car also fails to stop in time and crashes into the second car. The possibilities as to who is at fault are car #2 or car #3 or both. These are often termed chain collision traffic accidents.
For example, if the second car admits they crashed into the rear of the stopped lead vehicle without being pushed into the stopped auto by the third car, you would think you have an easy case. But no, imagine that after that crash the third car slams into the second car pushing it into the lead car for a second impact. Both parties are negligent for violating the assured clear distance statute, but which impact actually caused the injury to the person in the lead car. (See assured clear distance statue of Ohio) This can be a question of fact.
For instance, assume after the first impact the driver in the lead car breaks his arm. But then a day later due to whiplash the person in the lead car gets a sore neck. This injury ends in a herniated disc and surgery. You now have a separate injury to the arm and and indivisable injury to the neck. Indivisable in the sense that both impacts compined to produce the neck injury. So who then is responsible for the cervical harm.
Fortunatley the case of Pang v Minich where multiple vehicle collisions caused an inseparable injury is instructive as to proving legal responsibility. These were actually 3 succesive car crashes separated by days. They Ohio Supreme Court stated:
Thus, where a plaintiff suffers a single injury as a result of the tortious acts of multiple defendants, the burden of proof is upon the plaintiff to demonstrate that the conduct of each defendant was a substantial factor in the harm. See Porterie v. Peters (1975), 111 Ariz. 452, 455-456, 532 P.2d 514, 517-518; Richardson v. Volkswagenwerk, A.G. (W.D. Mo. 1982), 552 F. Supp. 73, 82-83. Once this burden has been met, a prima facie evidentiary foundation has been established supporting joint and several judgments against the defendants. Thereafter, the burden of persuasion shifts to the defendants to demonstrate that the harm produced by their separate apportionment.
It is critical that that a medical professional opine that the crash caused the neck injury. It would be the defendant's responsibility to prove their contribution to the injury if they do not want to be held liable for the totality of the neck harm.
Auto Crashes With Three Cars Rear Ending Another Variation
Anoher common variation in the three car rear ender is where the second car in claims injuries. In this example car #1 stopped and was hit by the car directly behind it. However, this car was pushed into the lead car by a third car. In the crash now under review, it is the second car that complains of injury. They say they got stopped behind the lead car. They say that the third car knocked them into the lead car. The third car says the second did not stop in time for the lead car. And they either never hit the car, or hit it and pushed the middle car back into the first car.
First liability must be established. ( responsibility under the law ). The fly in the ointment is that the last car claims that the second car hit the lead car before there was the crash between the second and third car. Careful investigation is critical. If independant witnesses can be found they are valuable. What was told to the investigating police offier can also shed light on fault. Photos of the vehicles can confirm damge to the front of the middle car.
Download of the electronic date recorder can also show speeds at critical points, braking if any, and other things. So it is important to get evidence preserved and examined before the cars are altered.
Multiple Car and Truck Collisions Interstate Catastrophes - A Case Study
A recent case I was involved in occured on a snowy, icey, windy, low visibility day on the expressway. Cincinnati has I-71 and I-75 as well as I- 275 to contend with in navigating automobile crashes. The collision involved 9 motor vehicles.
The lead vehicle lost control and slid across the road blocking all travelling lanes of the roadway. Trucks started sliding and jacknifing although no one hit this first truck. My client appeared to be the 8th tractor trailer involved. An indepenedent witnessed confirmed he got stopped. Then a truck going at a high rate of speed crashed into my client.
The police report stated : "Unit 1 was driving west. It jacknifed and came to rest in the roadway. Unit 1 was then involved in a 9 vehicle crash from which the sequence of events can not be determined." This does not sound like a case that can be proven. However the Ohio state highway patrol did diagram showing the resting positions of alll the vehicles.
There was an independant witness that had gotten his vehicle safely stopped that had witnessed the whole thing. Numerous depositions were taken of all the parties. It is highly recommended to sue all involved in the crash. It is always easier to let someone else out. But if you do not bring them in you may run the risk of losing a responsible defendant. A succesful resolution was reached. But a ton of hard work and expense was involved.
About the Author
Anthony Casteli attorney is the ceo and personal injury trial lawyer for the Law Office of Anthony D. Castelli. He has over 30 years experience in litigating and settleing personal injury claims. He has been named a Ohio Super Lawyer in personal injury by Super Lawyers magazine and has the highest rating for performance and ehtics by Martindale Hubbell. Read his 5 star reviews on google . Call Anthony at 513-621-2345 for a free claim consultation.