The Georgia Department of Transportation reported a major accident on I-20 near Atlanta recently. Over 15 people had to be rushed to the hospital and all lanes of I-20 were closed down as crews worked to detail the scene.
While police are still investigating what happened, when there are multiple cars involved in a single accident, it generally falls in line with Georgia’s insurance rules and traffic laws on chain-reaction accidents. Here, we’ll discuss chain reaction accidents and how they are processed by insurance claims managers and who is at fault.
Understanding Chain Reaction Accidents
You’re driving along in the left-most lane when, ahead of you, you see a car attempt to merge on from an entrance to a highway. The driver neglects to check his lane, causing a car coming up into the merging lane to swerve left, hitting another car. That car hits you, you go into the median and stop. Another car comes up, fails to stop in time and strikes your car. How does a situation like that get unraveled?
In a situation like this, there may be one clear at-fault driver, the merging driver. Even though the driver who merged dangerously onto the highway never struck anyone, they provoked a reaction that led to multiple cars colliding with one another and several injured drivers.
This is part of the law concerning chain-reaction accidents. Typically, a driver would need to show that their vehicle was physically struck by another vehicle, but accidents don’t always happen that way. Here, the clear fact that the driver attempting to merge did so recklessly is enough to pin the blame on them. However, in cases where there is no physical damage on the first car, the injured victims will need to go out of their way to prove that driver did, in fact, cause the accident. This can be done with surveillance video and witness statements.
There is also the question of the last driver into the accident. Let’s say that driver strikes your car from behind after you got knocked into the median by the other car. This driver strikes you at high speed causing neck injuries and whiplash. A determination must be made as to whether or not that driver had enough time to slow down before they struck your vehicle. If they reacted too slowly, were distracted while driving, or were drunk, you may also be able to file a claim against the last driver in.
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Factual and Legal Causation
In the example we explored above, we talked about a car that never contacted another car being responsible for the ensuing pile-up. That car caused another to veer perilously left in an attempt to avoid the illegally merging vehicle. In fact, the car that swerved to avoid that vehicle did exactly the right thing given the circumstances. However, this involved several other cars in an accident they otherwise would not have been in.
When taking the wheel, you owe every driver on the road a duty of care to obey the laws of traffic, drive safely, and avoid an accident. The first car violated that duty of care while the car that swerved to avoid them did not.
In Georgia, a driver who is the proximate cause of an accident is said to be at fault for the accident. Proximate causes have two subcategories: causation in fact and legal causation.
What Is Factual and Legal Causation?
Factual causation refers to causation in fact. Had it not been for the defendant’s negligence, the accident would have never occurred. In the aforementioned case, had the driver of the vehicle looked before attempting to merge onto the highway, the accident would not have occurred. However, a second claim can be made for the last driver into the accident. A plaintiff may argue that had the last driver in not been speeding, they would have had enough time to react to the accident and slow down before crashing into the penultimate driver’s vehicle.
Legal causation deals with what is or is not foreseeable. For instance, a claim might be made against the driver who, upon being cut off by the car merging onto the highway, should have known that veering into the next lane would cause an even greater accident. Given the facts that we have about the case, this is not a very convincing argument. The driver had very little time to react and simply wanted to avoid hitting the merging driver. If the illegal merging was foreseeable, the first driver hit by the swerving driver may have a cause of action against swerving driver (and not the merging driver).
Victim Must Prove Negligence of Each Party Involved
So let’s go back to our example. A driver merges onto a highway illegally forcing another to swerve which sets off a chain-reaction accident. The first car to make contact is probably not the liable party since they were reacting to a negligent driver. The last car hit is a bit of a mystery. In order to file a claim on that driver’s insurance, the car that ended up in the median would need to prove that they were driving too fast for the road conditions, tailgating, or were otherwise not focused on the road. The only person who would be able to file a claim against that driver would be the last driver struck. The other two cars would need to file claims against the merging driver.
At the heart of every traffic accident, there is some party who is primarily negligent or responsible for causing the accident. This can either be the result of some careless action taken or some inaction that should have been taken.
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If you’re involved in a car accident, you will have medical bills to pay, you’ll be missing time from work, and meanwhile, your monthly expenses will be piling up. You need an attorney who will protect the value of your claim and ensure that you are compensated fairly by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Talk to the Roger Ghai Law Offices today for a free consultation.