In the state of Texas, a reportable automobile collision occurs roughly once per minute. When a car accident happens, establishing legal fault is important. This helps to ensure that victims receive the compensation that they are rightfully due.

The process of determining legal fault for vehicular collisions that involve two vehicles can be complex. Weather conditions, surrounding roadway features, and vehicles’ speeds are all relevant for discovering who is at fault. 

Establishing responsibility for car crashes that include more than two automobiles is even more difficult. In the following post, we will discuss some of the relevant factors for determining who should pay in a three-car accident.

What Are Chain Reaction Crashes?

Collisions involving three vehicles are known as “chain reaction” crashes. This term refers to the way in which three-car accidents usually happen. Two cars collide initially, and the force of the first crash leads to further collisions with other vehicles, creating a chain reaction.

While this post’s primary focus is three-car crashes, a chain reaction collision includes any crash involving more than two vehicles. News coverage of chain reaction crashes typically refer to them as “pileups.” This is especially true when they involve a large number of vehicles or happen on high-traffic roadways.

Determining Liability in Three-Car Crashes

Because the scene of the collision and the dynamics that led to the crash are so complex, establishing fault in a chain reaction crash is particularly challenging. Financial and legal liability may fall on a single negligent driver. Alternatively, multiple drivers may share the responsibility.

Most successful car accident cases rely on the victim, establishing that another driver was negligent. “Negligence” is established by providing evidence that proves the following:

  • The at-fault driver owed a duty of care to other drivers on the road. Typically, fulfilling this duty requires the safe and lawful operation of the motor vehicle.
  • The driver breached their duty of care. Perhaps they were driving while distracted, speeding, or following too closely. 
  • When the driver breached the duty of care, their negligence caused the collision and any subsequent injuries. 

Determining fault in a three-car crash will depend on the specific circumstances of the accident. 

The following are a few common scenarios in which the liable driver is identified:

  • Scenario One – Vehicles A and B are sitting at an intersection. Vehicle C fails to stop in time and collides with Vehicle B. The force from the collision pushes Vehicle B forward, causing it to crash into vehicle A. In this case, the liable party would be the driver of Vehicle C.
     
  • Scenario Two – Vehicle A stops suddenly to avoid something in the road. Vehicle B was tailgating Vehicle A, and a rear-end collision occurs. Vehicle C was also tailgating behind Vehicle B and collides with it. In this case, the drivers of both Vehicles B and C are liable. The driver of Vehicle B is responsible for the first crash, while the driver of Vehicle C is responsible for the second.
     
  • Scenario Three – Vehicle A cuts off Vehicle B. In this scenario, Vehicle B is a commercial truck. The driver of Vehicle B is unable to slow down in time, causing them to collide with Vehicle A. The force of the impact causes Vehicle A to spin into another lane of traffic, where it is then hit by Vehicle C. The liability for this crash would fall on the driver of Vehicle A for improperly changing lanes.

There are many possible scenarios that can lead to a chain reaction crash. These are only a few of the most common situations. 

Apportioning Liability After a Three-Car Accident in Texas

More than one person can contribute to and cause a car accident. When that happens – whether there are two, three, or even four liable parties – everyone who plays a role shares the blame. 

That’s because Texas follows a modified comparative fault system with a 51% bar to recovery.

This means:

  • Fault is apportioned based on how much your actions (or inaction) contributed to a collision. The more you had to do with causing the accident, the more your share of the blame (legally and financially).
  • You can recover compensation as long as you aren’t allocated most of the blame. Once your share of responsibility exceeds 50%, you’re barred from seeking damages from other parties.

So, let’s say that A, B, and C are involved in an accident on a highway just outside of Houston. An investigation reveals that A is 10 percent at fault, B is 35 percent at fault, and C is 55 percent to blame.

Under state contributory negligence rules, this means:

  • A can recover 90% of his or her damages, and is liable for 10% of damages sustained by other parties
  • B can recover 65% of his or her damages, and is liable for 35% of the damages sustained by other parties, and
  • C can recover no damages and is liable for 55% of the damages sustained by A, B, and other parties who might have been affected.

Now, let’s say that A assumes zero liability for the crash, while B and C share fault equally. This means that:

  • A is entitled to recover 100% of his or her damages, and has no financial liability for the wreck
  • B and C can both recover half the value of their damages and are each on the hook for 50% of damages sustained by others in the crash.

As you can see, determining causation and apportioning liability properly is critically important after a crash.

Causes of Chain Reaction Car Crashes

Like most collisions, chain-reaction crashes are usually the result of human error. Environmental factors, such as the presence of highway construction, can also be relevant. 

Some of the most common causes of chain-reaction collisions include:

  • Tailgating – Three-car crashes sometimes occur because one vehicle is following another too closely. If more than two cars are driving near one another at high speed, when the car in front stops, it can cause multiple cars to collide.
  • Speeding – Driving too fast reduces the amount of time that drivers have to safely bring their vehicle to a stop. Additionally, speeding reduces the ability of drivers to control their cars. Many chain reaction collisions happen as the result of speeding.
  • Failure to Signal – Using a turn signal communicates your intended movements to other drivers. When drivers fail to signal before turning or changing lanes, the likelihood of collisions greatly increases.
  • Distracted Driving – Distractions like eating, drinking, talking with passengers, and using a cellphone can all lead to chain reaction crashes. Distracted driving can also contribute to a crash when paired with other types of negligence, like speeding or tailgating.
  • Alcohol Use – Alcohol impairment is one of the leading causes of all traffic accidents. If someone is driving under the influence of alcohol in a highly trafficked area, the chances of a chain reaction collision are increased.
  • Weather – Fog, snow, and rain contribute to low visibility. Adverse weather conditions make it less likely that drivers will see vehicles stopping in front of them. Slick roadways also can cause automobiles to hydroplane, leading to chain reaction pileups.

These are only a few of the potential factors that can lead to this type of crash. The most common feature of chain-reaction collisions is traffic congestion. A crowded roadway makes it more likely that a crash will involve three or more cars.

Speak with a Car Accident Attorney

If you or someone you love has been injured in a three-car crash, you may have the right to claim financial compensation. As we discussed above, determining liability in any car crash is a very complicated process. 

This is particularly true in chain-reaction collisions because there are more variables to consider. Whether or not your accident falls into one of the common scenarios discussed above, there are a range of factors that are relevant for determining liability.

An experienced car accident attorney can help you to determine who is responsible so that you can secure the compensation that you deserve.

To learn more, call our law firm at (713) 224-4878 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.