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Multi Car Accidents and Pileups

Multi Car Accidents and Pileups

When two cars are involved in a car accident, it’s not always obvious who is at fault. When there’s an accident involving three, four, five, or more vehicles, figuring out what caused the crash can be even more challenging.

A chain reaction car accident may take longer to resolve because there are more factors to investigate and competing insurance company claims. In the meantime, you may be left with unpaid bills.

To determine fault and receive compensation for a multiple vehicle collision, consider working with a car accident lawyer from Jim Adler & Associates. Our consultations are always 100% free, and we handle every injury case on a contingency fee basis.

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Chain Reaction Car Accident Causes

Multiple vehicle accidents occur when there is a series of collisions in a chain reaction. A primary crash occurs, and then additional crashes occur in response to the primary crash.

In multi car collisions, the wreckage can end up stretching for miles and affecting hundreds of vehicles. Long roadway closures, in addition to extensive loss of life, injuries, and property damage, often result.

According to a 2018 study, multi vehicle crashes are frequently caused by weather, such as fog, rain, ice, and snow.

  • A recent 158-vehicle pile up in Louisiana killed at least 7 people and injured two dozen more when a thick layer of fog blanketed a New Orleans interstate and visibility dropped to zero.
  • An Illinois dust storm on I-55 caused a 70-vehicle pile up crash that killed 7 and injured 30.

Lessons From the 130-Car Pileup in Fort Worth

Dallas-area residents no doubt remember the 130-vehicle pileup on I-35 near downtown Fort Worth in February 2021 that killed six people and injured dozens. The final report from the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the company responsible for treating the roads failed to properly deice the accident location amid a 36 hour stretch of below-freezing temperatures. The report also blamed motorists driving too fast for the conditions.

It took NTSB more than two years to complete its investigation of the Fort Worth chain reaction crash, highlighting the difficulty of pinpointing exactly what set off the sequence of events in a multi vehicle collision.

While winter weather conditions were the underlying cause in the Fort Worth pileup, you can’t file an insurance claim against Mother Nature. But you can file an insurance company claim against a driver who fails to slow down on snowy, icy, or foggy roads. It may also be possible to pursue compensation from a third party, such as a government entity or contractor (e.g., the company responsible for operations and maintenance on I-35).

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Multi Vehicle Accident Severity

Compared to crashes between two vehicles, crashes involving three or more vehicles tend to be more severe. Findings published in the Transportation Research Record found that the following variable were associated with multi car accident severity:

  • Vehicle speed
  • Traffic volume
  • Alcohol use
  • Lighting condition
  • Number of vehicles

A multi vehicle car accident can cause more serious injuries because there are multiple impacts. In a chain reaction accident, the most frequent initial impact is a frontal or side impact, followed by a second frontal or side impact.

One study found that about 1 in 4 U.S. car accidents involve multiple impacts. Each impact increased the risk of serious injury.

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How to Avoid a Multi Car Accident

Research suggests that more than half of chain reaction collisions occur due to bad weather. Dramatic increases in snow, rain, fog, dust, and other weather-related hazards can cause poor visibility that makes it difficult or impossible for drivers to see. Slick conditions can affect traction, increasing stopping distances or making vehicles slide out of control.

In the aftermath of the I-35 multi car accident, the CEO of an accident reconstruction consulting firm from Houston spoke with Consumer Reports about ways to avoid getting in a multivehicle crash. He said that such crashes tend to occur in response to sudden, weather-related changes, primarily ice and snow.

When the weather turns bad, here are some ways to avoid a chain reaction accident:

Reduce your driving speed

The slower you travel, the more time you have to react. This is especially important in bad weather, when stopping distances can increase. Texans love big trucks and SUVs, but the laws of physics apply equally to 4×4 and all-wheel drive vehicles. Don’t assume that a large, heavy vehicle with traction tires is weather-proof.

Follow other vehicles at a safe distance

Safety experts recommend a minimum three-second following distance in ideal conditions. But in darkness, fog, ice, or precipitation, you may need as much as 8 – 10 seconds between your car and the car in front of you to safely come to a stop.

Check your mirrors and avoid tailgaters

You may need to change lanes or pull over to let a tailgating driver pass you. Coming up on stopped traffic when somebody is following too closely could set off a chain reaction accident.

Remain vigilant

Distractions can be especially dangerous when the weather turns bad. Avoid the temptation to check weather and roadway reports or call loved ones to tell them you’re delayed. Keep your full attention on the road and constantly monitor your surroundings.

Know what’s around you

Know at all times if there are other drivers next to and behind you. This will allow you to keep an appropriate buffer between your car and other cars. Be on the lookout for commercial trucks and tractor trailers, which have longer stopping distances and are at risk of jackknifing.

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Top Causes of Texas Car Accidents

Despite efforts at safety education and accident deterrence, Texas roadways are not getting safer. In fact, there is evidence that they’re getting more dangerous.

The year 2021 was the second deadliest on Texas roads, according to TxDOT. It was the deadliest year in four decades, and the 4,480 people killed was 15% higher than the previous year. Texas roadway fatalities dropped slightly in 2022 to 4,481, along with 18,880 serious motor vehicle injuries.

A multi vehicle accident can occur even when weather conditions are ideal. All it takes is a single mistake to set off a chain reaction collision. Once the initial collision happens, additional collisions may be unavoidable. One vehicle can lose control, a second car can rear end the lead vehicle, then a third vehicle enters the fray, and so on down the line.

Such collisions are relatively uncommon, but their causes are usually not that different than other types of traffic accidents. The reasons why crashes occur are remarkably consistent year after year and from place to place. Some of the top causes of Texas car accidents include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Unsafe lane changes
  • Defective brakes and tires
  • Running a red light or stop sign
  • Drunk driver
  • Failure to yield at intersections
  • Not paying attention
  • Speeding
  • Lane departures
  • Unsafe passing
  • Improper evasive actions
  • Following too closely

Whether it’s one car hitting a stationary object, two vehicles crashing at a red light, three vehicles colliding at an intersection, or 130 vehicles piling up on an icy interstate, human error is almost always the cause of accidents. Experts generally agree that around 95 – 98% of crashes result from human error, which includes not only dangerous actions but also failure to do something that could have prevented an accident.

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Determining Fault in Multi-Car Crashes

Establishing fault can be a challenge when only two vehicles are involved. When an accident involves three or more vehicles, it is even more challenging to determine fault.

The multi car accident claims process typically plays out as follows:

  • Each driver’s insurance company investigates the accident and reaches a conclusion about who was at fault.
  • In at fault states like Texas, fault isn’t necessarily all or nothing. Accident responsibility can be shared, with compensation paid in an amount proportional to each driver’s blame (e.g., fault can be 50-50, 60-40, 70-30, etc.). This is called comparative negligence.

Crash investigations are based on evidence such as the police report, eyewitness testimony, and photo and video evidence. Although it’s not uncommon for there to be conflicting accounts about what caused the accident, in a two-car crash, there are a limited number of factors at play. This makes determining liability relatively simple.

Multi Car Accident Investigations Can Drag On

The more vehicles there are in a crash, the more factors there are to sort through, and the more complicated the investigation. Insurance companies might be waiting on law enforcement to wrap up their accident investigation. As was seen with the I-35 pileup from winter 2021, that can take many months and even years.

However, even when the investigations conclude, there could be disagreement about blame among the parties. This can cause the claims process to drag on even longer.

There may be lawsuits, additional investigations, witness depositions, negotiations, and court proceedings. From out of these events, new parties could emerge as potentially liable, such as a government entity that was negligent in its road maintenance duties, a manufacturer that made defective tires, or a road work crew that did not post proper signage warning drivers of a slowdown.

The entire accident could be attributed to the actions of a single driver who set off a chain reaction. And more than one vehicle could ultimately bear blame.

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When to Talk to a Lawyer About a Multi Car Collision

Accidents are chaotic events, and the aftermath of a crash can be equally tumultuous. If you’ve been injured in a multi-car crash and the claims process is dragging on, you may be no closer to receiving a settlement today than on the day of the crash.

Multiple vehicles, multiple drivers, and multiple insurance claims can make crashes involving three or more cars difficult to resolve. There might be more than one negligent party, varying accounts of how the accident went down, and legal issues such as comparative negligence to sort out.

It might be necessary to file a lawsuit to resolve a multi-vehicle crash, especially if you’ve been unfairly blamed for the accident or disagree with the settlement. When that happens, the question of who did what—and who is owed what—is left to the court.

Most car accidents don’t require a lawyer, but some do. And when they do, your choice of attorney is crucial. At the very least, you might want to talk with a lawyer and get answers to your questions.

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