It’s a beautiful day in the Sunshine State. You’re cruising down the highway with the top down and the radio up, when suddenly the guy in the car in front of you slams on his brakes. With no time to stop and nowhere to turn, you crash into the back of his car.
This causes a chain reaction vehicle accident, with the woman behind you plowing into your vehicle’s rear end, leaving you sandwiched between two cars. Now, the tricky part—determining who is at fault.
The Facts About Multi-Car Collisions
Unfortunately, the multi-car accident described above is all too common (and we'll return to this particular scenario shortly). But what caused the accident, and who is at fault? While there are many factors at play in any pile-up, those causes most commonly cited are:
Following too closely behind another vehicle
Taking your eyes off the road
Failure to use caution in low-visibility conditions (fog is perhaps the most dangerous and deadly condition, responsible for eight of the 10 worst car pile-ups in history, five of which occurred in the US)
Poor road traction (usually caused by wet or icy roads)
Determining Fault in Florida
But back to the question of who is responsible. It would be easy to state that the person who first initiated the accident is automatically to blame (in the scenario described at the start of this story, that would be you, because you were the first one to make contact with another vehicle). However, with multiple drivers involved, it’s not that simple; other drivers’ could also be at fault for contributing to the pile-up, though usually to a lesser degree.
Back to our scenario: even though you initiated the pile-up, should you be at fault for the woman who hit you from behind if it is determined that she was texting on her phone at the time? Her distraction could have been what caused her to fail to stop quickly enough, not your accident, which places some of the pile-up blame on her too. That’s why Florida follows the Florida Comparative Fault Statute.
Comparative Fault in Florida
The Comparative Fault Statute states that “contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as economic and noneconomic damages for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault, but does not bar recovery.”
In other words, injured parties are allowed to recoup damages even if they are partly to blame for the accident; however, the amount they receive will be offset by their degree of fault. So, in our original scenario, the man in the car would likely seek damages from you; you could seek damages from the woman behind you; and she could still seek some amount of damages from you as well.
Because of the inherent complications of determining fault in multi-vehicle crashes, the involvement of insurance agencies and possibly courts, police reports will be extremely comprehensive and generally include:
A detailed account of the accident often with a sketch of what evidence shows occurred
Victim and witness information, interviews, and statements
Weather and road conditions that may have contributed to the accident
Because accidents happen fast and memories may be fuzzy, these details can help or hinder your ability to seek damages, depending on your role in the incident.
Accident Aftermath: What To Do
A multi-vehicle accident can leave you dazed, scared, confused—even injured. For your safety, remember two things immediately following the accident:
Employ your hazard lights so that other vehicles can see you
Stay in your vehicle; many people jump out to take stock of the damage immediately, but this can be dangerous should another vehicle crash into the accident site
Once police are on the scene and have okayed you to get out of your car, be sure to:
Take photographs of your vehicle and those around you, including license plate numbers
Jot down the events leading up to the accident while they’re fresh in your mind
Ask officers for a copy of the police report
Finally, once you’ve left the scene of the accident, you’ll want to take these next steps:
Inform your insurance company (it is important to notify them, but it may be in your best interest not to provide details until you consult with an attorney)