Multi-Vehicle Accidents in New Jersey

Being in a car accident can be frightening and confusing for anyone. However, when more than two cars are involved, the amount of damage, the number of people potentially injured, and the information required to resolve the matter increases significantly. Even worse, it’s not always clear who is at fault—in fact, many times more than one driver bears some level of responsibility in such accidents.

That makes it critical that any person involved in a multi-vehicle crash hire a skilled personal injury attorney right away. An attorney can ensure that the client is compensated adequately for the injuries, suffering, and financial losses that result from the crash. Moreover, he/she can fight to ensure that the client does not bear an unfair level of liability for the crash. 

What Is a Multi-Vehicle Collision?

Accident data recorded by police and other sources often use the term “multi-vehicle accident” to refer to a crash involving two or more vehicles, as a way of differentiating from single-vehicle accidents, in which one vehicle crashes by itself, either into an object, such as a tree or guardrail, or by veering off the road into a ditch, flipping over, or something similar.

For the purpose of this article, however, a multi-vehicle accident is defined as when three or more vehicles are involved in the same accident. For example, Car A rear-ends Car B while it is stopped at a red light, and Car B rolls skids forward hitting Car C.  Pileups (a term used to describe accidents involving many vehicles) are also considered multi-vehicle collisions.

Causes of Multi-Vehicle Accidents

The two most common locations for multi-car accidents are on highways and at intersections. Highways have multiple lanes of vehicles often going at high speeds. Similarly, intersections—even those with traffic control devices—bring intersecting lanes together in multiple directions, which presents the possibility of confusion and collision. 

Any factor that could potentially result in one- or two-car accidents can also result in multi-vehicle accidents. Among the more common are:

  • Distraction. Whether it’s texting, eating, talking to backseat passengers, or rubbernecking, anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the road can result in a pileup.
  • Drunk driving. The influence of drugs or alcohol impairs driving ability and leads to some of the worst accidents, including those involving multiple cars. 
  • Fatigued driving. Drivers who are sleepy and nodding off at the wheel—including truck drivers—are almost as likely to cause an accident as those driving drunk. 
  • Speeding. It’s no surprise that excess speed is one of the top factors in nearly every type of crash. Multi-vehicle accidents are no exception.
  • Tailgating. This can often be an aggravating factor in high-speed accidents and multi-vehicle accidents, as drivers fail to give themselves enough distance from other vehicles to stop at the speed they are traveling. 
  • Weather conditions. Poor visibility or slick roads can increase the risk of pileups, where three or more vehicles collide because drivers either cannot see well or vehicles fail to slow down sufficiently.  Dense fog, for example, has been the cause of many such multi-vehicle crashes.

What Contributes to Severity?

One of many things that makes multiple-vehicle crashes so dangerous is that, oftentimes, a driver or passenger is struck more than once. A driver who is sideswiped might veer into oncoming traffic and then be struck head-on by another driver. Even at low speeds, the combination of the two impacts can result in greater injury than either impact alone. 

As with many accidents, the speed and size of the vehicles involved also plays a role in determining the severity of the crash. Large SUVs strike with more force than smaller vehicles, which can be dangerous to both the passengers inside the SUV and the vehicle it hits. 

Multi-car crashes also carry an increased risk of drivers being trapped inside a vehicle. A car that is sandwiched between two vehicles can find the doors unable to open. Repeated impacts can also damage seatbelt release buttons, preventing occupants or rescuers from being able to unbuckle and transport the injured quickly. Either scenario can delay urgently needed medical attention and exacerbate injuries. 

Potential Injuries

The raw force of most multi-vehicle collisions can cause injuries to almost any part of the body, depending on the circumstances. This includes:

  • Broken bones
  • Burns
  • Concussions and other brain injuries 
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Lacerations from broken glass
  • Loss of limb
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Soft tissue damage
  • Whiplash and other neck injuries

In addition, a person can also suffer emotional trauma, which can lead to things such as having nightmares of the accident, claustrophobia (if he/she was trapped in the car for a period of time), and more. These can impact one’s life just as much as any physical injury. 

Fatality Rate for Multi-Vehicle Accidents

There is no data specifically for accidents involving three or more vehicles, so the fatality rate is unclear. However, logic would dictate that the more vehicles involved in a crash the more likely one or more persons could suffer fatal wounds. This is particularly true in cases where one or more vehicles are struck multiple times, compounding injuries upon injuries. 

Determining Fault

Figuring out who is liable in a multi-car crash can be difficult to determine. Even in a simple two-car accident, both drivers may carry some responsibility for the crash. However, when three or more drivers are involved, determining who is at fault becomes more complex. 

For example, Car A is on the highway and stops short (due to being distracted). Car B, which was tailgating Car A, rear-ends Car A. The roads are wet from earlier rain, which causes Car A to skid more than it might have otherwise and strike Car C. A passenger in Car C who was not wearing a seatbelt, slams forward and hits his face and arm on the dashboard. 

In this scenario, there is likely a lot of property damage and more than a few injuries. But who is the most at fault, and for which injuries? How much of a role does the wet road play? Which party has the right to sue and for how much? 

Exactly who is at fault, and for how much, always depends on the facts of the case. A good example of how complicated multi-vehicle accident cases can be is Essinger v. DiStefano. In Essinger, a driver fell asleep at the wheel and crossed over the double yellow line, colliding with an oncoming car. The car behind the oncoming car tried to swerve to avoid the collision, but still struck the rear passenger side of the car in front of it. The court ultimately decided that the driver who hit the car from behind was not at fault because he was not following too closely, and that the driver who fell asleep at the wheel was entirely at fault.

The manufacturer of a car might also share some of the fault if a defective design contributed to the accident or to someone’s injuries. In Crispin v. Volkswagenwerk AG, a driver was paralyzed after being involved in a three-car pileup. In addition to suing the other drivers, he sued the manufacturer of his car, arguing that his injuries would not have been as severe if his car seat had been designed properly. After years of litigation, he finally won $4.8 million in damages from the manufacturer.

In cases like these, it is common for all parties to bear some level of liability but figuring out exactly how much will take a great deal of investigation and a skilled presentation of the facts. This is why having the right personal injury attorney matters tremendously. 

Filing a Claim

By law, anyone involved in an auto accident in which a person is injured must call the police and file a report. If he/she is able, that person should attempt to document the accident. This means taking photos of the vehicles, exchanging contact information with other parties. It would be wise to also get contact information from any witnesses, as well as make note of the time, weather, and road conditions. All of this and more will be critical for anyone who needs to file a personal injury lawsuit related to a multi-vehicle crash. 

Claims involving more than two vehicles often take longer to pursue due to both the complexity of the facts and the sheer number of parties involved. A person who has filed a lawsuit against one or more drivers related to a multi-vehicle accident should be patient and follow the advice of his/her attorney. 

Even in relatively simple multi-car accidents, the number of drivers can make trials complicated. In Williams v. Hodes, the driver of the front (first) car of a four-car pileup sued the driver of the last (fourth) car. The driver of the last car claimed that the drivers of the second and third cars were at fault. At the last minute, the driver of the last car dismissed his claims against the other two drivers, and the court ordered a new trial because dropping the claims meant that the other two drivers didn’t appear in court, which made it impossible for the driver of the first car to prove their case.

Keep in mind that New Jersey uses a comparative fault model for personal injury awards. That means that a driver’s award is reduced by the amount he/she is found at fault for an accident. For example, a person who is judged to deserve $1 million for injuries and suffering from a crash might be found to be 25% at fault. As such, the driver will only be awarded $750,000. Moreover, being found 25% at fault could expose the driver to liability for another party’s injuries as well. 

The right attorney can work hard to get the maximum possible award, as well as minimize exposure to a lawsuit from other parties involved in the multi-vehicle accident. 

car crash tree

Case Study: $21 Million Award

What makes this case unique: Defense witness testified in favor of plaintiff; judge was a former Attorney General who had lost a substantial case to Mr. Rosenblum years earlier; Appellate Court actually increased the award amount.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is a multi-car accident lawsuit worth? 

The potential damages for a car accident lawsuit depend on the magnitude of the injuries, the financial burden imposed as a result, and the amount of suffering (both physical and emotional). An attorney can give an estimation during the initial consultation based on one’s specific situation. 

Who does insurance pay in a multi-vehicle accident? 

The question of which insurance carriers will pay damages in a multi-vehicle accident will depend on who is determined to be at fault and how much so. Each insurance provider will have its own methodology for figuring this out. Sometimes more than one, or even all parties will bear some responsibility. 

Is the last car in a chain rear-end accident liable if he/she wasn’t tailgating? 

A chain rear-end accident, also referred to as a chain reaction accident, occurs when 3 or more cars rear-end each other. In such cases, the car in front may be just as much at fault as any car in the chain. Speed, distance between cars, road conditions, and much more will have to be examined. For example, even if the last driver was a safe distance behind but was going too fast for the road conditions (e.g., snow), he/she may still have some liability.

If you get hit from behind and then hit the car in front of you, who is at fault?

This depends on a variety of factors, including whether or not you were tailgating the car in front of you and/or if the car behind you was tailgating. Also, if one or more of the cars involved was speeding, distracted, or stopped short, this will also be considered. If the front two cars were stopped at a red light, that puts more liability on the car in the rear, but does not ensure that he/she will be wholly at fault. 

Who Should I Contact?

Multi-vehicle accidents are serious matters that can result in injuries and suffering that affects the rest of one’s life. If you or someone you love has been injured in an auto accident, contact Rosenblum Law today. Our experienced team of aggressive New Jersey personal injury lawyers has a record of recoveries in all types of New Jersey personal injury cases. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.

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