Determining Liability in a Multi-Car Pileup

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Determining liability in a South Carolina car accident can be complicated. Often, two drivers involved in a collision will disagree about who is at fault. In some cases, they may both be right–many car accidents have more than one contributing cause. Imagine, for example, that one vehicle suddenly stops in traffic because two children are fighting in the back seat. The next vehicle in line is following too closely and slightly exceeding the speed limit, and rear-ends the vehicle that stopped abruptly.

The driver in front will almost certainly be found to have acted negligently when they slammed on the brakes. The other driver will likely also be found negligent, since they were speeding and following too close. In other words, each will likely be deemed partly responsible for the crash. If they can’t reach a settlement agreement, it will be up to a jury to determine what percentage of the blame to assign to each.

What if the Injured Person was Partly Responsible in South Carolina?

Since 1991, South Carolina has followed a comparative negligence model for resolving injury cases in which the injured person is partly at fault. That means an injured party who is not more than 50% responsible can recover damages from the other responsible party. But, the amount of compensation will be reduced to account for the injured person’s own fault. So, for instance, if the injury victim suffered $100,000 in damages but was found 20% responsible, they could recover $80,000.

The other driver, who was 80% responsible, wouldn’t be entitled to any damages since they were more than half responsible. It’s probably not difficult to see how much more complicated this situation becomes when there are three or six or even dozens of vehicles involved in a collision.

About Multi-Vehicle Accidents

Largest Motor Vehicle Pileups in the Southeastern United States

South Carolina has been fortunate not to be the site of one of the largest multi-vehicle accidents in the United States, but many of our neighbors in the region haven’t been so fortunate. Both of South Carolina’s immediate neighbors–North Carolina and Georgia–have been the site of crashes involving more than 125 vehicles. Earlier, Alabama saw a 200-vehicle crash that killed one person and injured more than 90, and a dozen people were killed in a 99-car pileup in Tennessee.

How Do Multi-Vehicle Accidents Happen?

One of the most common types of multi-vehicle pileup is a chain reaction collision. In a chain reaction crash, one vehicle typically rear ends another, triggering a chain in one or both directions. That is, the car that is rear-ended may be propelled forward into the vehicle in front of it (and so on). Or, a car may slow or stop suddenly and be rear-ended by another car, which in turn slows significantly or comes to a stop and is rear-ended by the car behind it (and so on).

Another type of multi-vehicle collision involves a single vehicle hitting multiple vehicles. For instance, this may occur if a truck driver loses control of an 18-wheeler, since the greater size of the truck and the possibility that the trailer will slide out of alignment means the truck may make contact with several other vehicles. At the same time, one or more of those other vehicles may be pushed or spun into still other cars.

Often, the weather plays a role in pileup accidents. Slippery roads and low visibility can both increase the risk of a multi-vehicle accident. But, it’s important to understand that most car accidents–including multi-vehicle pileup accidents–can be avoided by responsible drivers.

How Drivers Contribute to Multi-Car Pileup Crashes

Any type of negligent behavior on the road can contribute to a multi-vehicle accident. But, certain types of negligence frequently play a role in these collisions. These include:

  • Following too close: Failing to allow a safe stopping distance between cars makes it more difficult to stop in time to avoid a rear-end collision. In close traffic, a domino-like effect can easily trigger a chain of collisions.
  • Speeding: Increased speeds mean longer stopping times. So, like following too closely, driving over the speed limit or too fast for conditions increases the likelihood of rear-ending another vehicle. It also reduces the time a driver has to take evasive action if there’s debris in the road or some other hazard appears.
  • Distracted driving: Losing just one or two seconds in reaction time due to a distraction can make the difference between evading a collision and plowing into another vehicle.
  • Fatigued driving or driving under the influence: Driving under the influence or driving without adequate sleep can significantly slow reaction times, making it more difficult to avoid a collision.

In some accidents, two or more of these actions–or other types of negligence–may be involved. That means more than one driver may share responsibility. And, in some cases, a driver may be responsible for injuries to the occupants of a vehicle they never made contact with. Untangling liability can be a complex process, and one best left in the hands of an experienced South Carolina motor vehicle accident lawyer.

Talk To a Charleston Car Accident Lawyer Right Away

The best way to protect your rights after a Charleston-area multi-vehicle accident is to get information and guidance from an experienced car accident lawyer. Frank Hartman founded The Hartman Law Firm more than a decade ago to help injury victims in his home state, following in the footsteps of his father, who also practiced personal injury law in South Carolina.

Frank knows how stressful the time after a serious injury can be, and how important it is that you have accurate information about your rights and options. That’s why he offers free consultations to those who have been injured in motor vehicle accidents in the Charleston area. You can schedule yours now by calling 843-300-7600 or filling out the contact form on this page.

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