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Jeff Sevey

Imagine yourself driving on an average day. You’re traveling on a route that you’ve driven dozens or perhaps hundreds of times before. Everything is fine as you slow and signal your intention to make a left-hand turn. Then, out of nowhere, the car behind you slams into the rear end of your vehicle. The impact pushes your car into oncoming traffic, where it’s struck by a pickup truck heading in the opposite direction. That impact drives your car into the sides of two cars parked along the street, where you come to rest.

In the space of less than 10 seconds, five cars have been damaged to varying degrees. In addition, four people have been injured, two of them seriously. More importantly, what took a blink of the eye to occur will now take months or even years to sort out from both a medical and legal standpoint.

When most people think of a car accident, they think of one vehicle hitting another. However, multiple-vehicle accidents are more common that you think. Statistics gathered by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that of the nearly 6 million car accidents that occur each year in the U.S., almost one-third involve more than two vehicles.

As in our example, all it takes is one mistake by one driver to cause a cascading chain reaction of physical events that involves any vehicle unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. Furthermore, the forces involved when thousands of pounds of metal, plastic, and glass collide are tremendous. This means that the chances of serious injury or death are high in any multiple car accident.

Common Causes of Multiple Car Accidents

In reality, almost anything can cause a multiple-vehicle accident. However, here are some of the statistically common causes of such accidents, as well as what you can do to avoid them.

Bad Weather

Very often bad weather is responsible for creating road conditions that are perfect for causing a multiple-vehicle accident. Rain and, more importantly, snow and ice can cause roads to become more slick than drivers may anticipate. Under these conditions, stopping your vehicle can take far longer than when the road is dry – if you’re able to stop at all. Oftentimes, a driver will brake, only to find that the distance between their car and the car in front of them is far too short to avoid a collision. As a result, they collide with that vehicle. The process is then repeated, over and over, as each successive vehicle behind the first finds the road too slick to stop.

Sometimes, these chain-reaction collisions can be enormous. In December of 2011, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, 176 vehicles were involved in multiple-vehicle, chain-reaction collision that stretched for nearly two miles along a local highway. Luckily, only one person was killed and only 16 were injured.

During weather conditions that tend to make roads slick or reduce visibility, practice defensive driving. Reduce your speed and increase the distance interval between your vehicle and vehicle in front of you. Steps like these will increase your travel time, but they will also increase your chance to get where you’re going in one piece.


The faster you drive, the longer it takes for you to bring your car to a stop. Furthermore, high rates of speed mean that your car travels further in shorter intervals of time. This means that a momentary glance at your passenger or your phone has consequences that are more serious at 65 mph than at 25 mph. Finally, the chances for fatalities and serious injuries caused by an accident greatly increase as speed increases.

Always follow the posted speed limit when driving. While exceeding the speed limit is an excellent way of shaving a couple of minutes off your trip, it is also an excellent way to increase the odds that you will be involved in a multiple car accident that could end your life.

Drunk Driving

This is literally a no-brainer. You should never, under any circumstances whatsoever, get behind the wheel of a car after you’ve been drinking. Your ability to safely and effectively operate a motor vehicle becomes greatly reduced or eliminated when you have alcohol in your system. This means that the chances that you will be involved in, or cause a multiple car accident also increase. Not only can you hurt or kill yourself, but you can also hurt or kill innocent drivers and passengers who will be the victims of your lack of judgment.

Distracted Drivers

Driving is serious business. Your attention needs to be on the road, not on your phone, your passengers, or any other distractions. A car traveling 60 mph will travel 88 feet every second. In the few seconds that it takes you to check your phone, your car will travel 200 to 300 feet effectively blind. If traffic conditions suddenly change during that short period of time, you will find yourself with insufficient time to react to those changed conditions. The result can be a multiple-vehicle accident that can injure or kill you and your passengers.

Who is at Fault in a Multiple Car Accident?

Multiple car accidents are by their very nature complex. This means that determining who did what when can be very challenging. Typically, the investigation into the accident, as well the settlement process or litigation of the claims arising out of the accident, need to be handled carefully with a close eye on the applicable facts and details.

In the end, fault is a question of fact that, in a multiple car accident lawsuit, will be determined by a judge or jury after looking at the relevant evidence. However, if, at the end of lawsuit, a judge or jury found that the evidence showed that the accident was partially your fault, it still won’t prevent you from recovering damages for your injuries.

California is a comparative negligence state. This means that if a person is partially at fault for an accident that caused them injury, they can still recover damages. The amount of those damages are simply reduced by the percentage of fault for the accident that is their responsibility. For example, if you were awarded $100,000 in damages by a jury but were also found to be 10% at fault for the accident that caused your injuries, your ultimate recovery would be reduced by 10% to $90,000.

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