A car accident is considered a multi-vehicle accident when it involves three or more vehicles. Typically, multi-vehicle accidents occur in situations where someone was rear-ended and they were pushed into a third vehicle. Sometimes, this can even lead to a fourth vehicle being hit as well.
Congested traffic, poor visibility, and bad road conditions can contribute to multi-vehicle accidents. Estimates show that more than 2 million multi-vehicle accidents occur every year
Multi-vehicle accidents frequently result in serious injuries and fatalities. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, multi-vehicle accidents accounted for 59% of car occupant deaths in 2016.
Joint and Several Liability
Some complex issues come up whenever a person pursues compensation for injuries sustained in a multi-vehicle accident. For instance, what happens if there are 3 drivers involved and everyone is equally at fault, but only 2 of them have auto insurance? Is each driver only liable to you for his or her own percentage of the judgment equal to his or her percentage of fault?
Long ago, the traditional rule that applied to these issues is the rule of joint and several liability. Under true joint and several liability, each defendant is liable to you for 100% of the judgment or verdict, regardless of his or her actual percentage of fault. In essence, you can pursue compensation from one defendant, all of the defendants, or several defendants. On the other hand, you cannot collect more than 100% of your judgment. But, you can divide up the judgment between the defendants in any way you desire. Logically, you will want to start with the defendant with the most insurance or greatest personal net worth and then move on from there.
However, as described in more detail below, most states have abandoned true joint and several liability in favor of a modified version. Therefore, it is critical that you seek legal assistance as soon as possible when involved in a multi vehicle accident to understand your rights of recovery against each driver.
The Concept of Related Contribution
Whereas joint and several liability allows an individual injured in a multi-vehicle car accident to seek and collect compensation from the defendants in any combination he or she chooses, the law then allows a defendant who paid more than his or her share of the judgment to recover a portion of that money from the other defendants.
For example, let us suppose that you sue Joe, Bob, and Tom for injuries you suffered in a multi-vehicle accident, and the jury awards you $100,000, with Joe being 50% at fault, Bob 25%, and Tom 25%. You then collect the full $100,000 from Joe because he has the largest insurance policy. Then, because he was only 50% at fault, Joe is allowed to recover 25% from Bob and 25% from Tom. This is referred to as seeking contribution from the other defendants.
But, unlike an injured party, who can collect any or all of the judgment from each defendant, a defendant may only seek contribution from another defendant to the extent of that defendant’s percentage of fault. Therefore, Joe can only recover 25% from Bob and 25% from Tom, for a total of 50% of the $100,000 he paid you.
The logic behind the theory of related contribution is that, whenever there are multiple defendants involved in a car accident claim and not all of them have sufficient insurance or financial resources to compensate the injured party, someone has to lose out.
Either the injured party has to recover less than the total amount that he or she is awarded or one or more of the defendants has to pay more than his or her share and then be unable to recover this money from the other defendants (since they have no money). In this situation, it is preferable that the defendants lose out because they were guilty––at least to some extent––and the injured party is the only innocent person in this equation.
Modified Joint and Several Liability
Most states have either totally abandoned or modified the traditional rule of joint and several liability. In some states, these modifications apply to all types of personal injury cases. In other states, they only apply to certain types of cases––most often medical malpractice claims.
So what alternative rules do these states use?
Some states that have abandoned the joint and several liability rule entirely provide that the injured party can only collect from a defendant to the extent of the defendant’s individual level of negligence. Thus, if a defendant is 25% at fault, the injured party can only collect 25% of the judgment from that defendant. If the defendant doesn’t have enough insurance or personal financial resources to pay, the injured party loses out rather than the defendant.
Other states provide that the injured party can collect only to the extent of the defendant’s percentage of fault if that percentage is below a certain level. But, if the defendant’s percentage of fault is over that level, the injured party can collect under the traditional rule of joint and several liability. For example, if the defendant is less than 50% at fault, the injured party can only collect from that defendant to the extent of his or her individual percentage of fault. However, if the defendant is 50% at fault or more, the injured party can collect 100% of the award from that defendant, regardless of his or her individual percentage of fault.
What if I the Injured Party is Also at Fault?
In many cases, the injured party was also partially at fault for the accident in which they were injured. So, some states have replaced joint and several liability with the theory of contributory negligence or comparative negligence. This essentially means that the total amount recoverable by the injured party will be discounted by his or her own percentage of fault. So, if you are 40% at fault for the accident, you can only recover 60% of your losses from the defendants.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
Pursuing compensation for injuries sustained in a multi-vehicle accident often requires an in-depth investigation to determine who is at fault and to what extent. It is, therefore, imperative that you seek legal assistance as soon as possible.
The physical injuries and emotional trauma caused by multi-vehicle accidents can last for years. Hiring an experienced car accident attorney will give you the best chance of being fully compensated for your injuries and losses.