Liability in a Multi-Vehicle Pileup

Multi-vehicle pileups (also known as “chain reaction accidents”) are not uncommon on busy roadways in Arizona, and in the United States at-large.  When a motor vehicle accident occurs, then — depending on the conditions of the road and the average speed at which cars, trucks, and motorcycles are moving — a pileup could quite easily develop, causing the initial event to spiral out-of-control and affect a much larger group of people.

If you’ve been harmed in a multi-vehicle pileup, you may be feeling confused and somewhat overwhelmed by the prospect of litigation, and for good reason.  It may be unclear where you should even begin — there could be several different drivers who you believe are responsible for causing your injuries.

Multi-vehicle pileup liability can be simplified through the application of basic causation principles.  Let’s take a quick look.

Understanding the Chain of Causation

In multi-vehicle pileups, the core issue is that of the chain of causation.  Defendants may only be held liable if their actions substantially contribute to the injuries you suffered, and if the chain of causation “linking” their actions to your injuries is continuous.

Concurrent Causation

Arizona law does not shield defendants from liability simply because others were simultaneously negligent, reckless, or intentionally engaged in misconduct.  If there are multiple causes to an accident (as is typical in a multi-vehicle pileup where several cars and trucks might fail to exercise reasonable care and thereby contribute to the pileup), then each defendant responsible for contributing to the accident can be held liable.

Determining whether a defendant has substantially contributed to an injury requires an evaluation of but-for causation.  In other words, if the injury would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s negligence, recklessness, or wrongful misconduct, then their actions may be counted among the substantial causes of the injury.

For example, imagine that a multi-vehicle pileup begins to form.  It is a low-speed pileup, so you have fortunately not suffered a major injury.  Then, a speeding truck slams into the pile and causes a car to flip onto your hood, leading to severe injuries.  The truck is not the sole cause of your injuries but is certainly a “but for” concurrent cause.

Intervening Causation

Intervening causation is a defense used by many drivers when circumstances allow.  If the causal chain is severed, then the defendant can avoid liability.  The causal chain can only be severed if the subsequent, intervening events were not reasonably foreseeable.

For example, let’s return to the multi-vehicle pileup scenario above.  One of the low-speed defendants might argue that the speeding truck slamming into the pileup was an intervening cause, and that the truck driver should be held fully responsible for the damages.  This might not be a fair argument, however, as one could counter-argue that by causing a pileup on the roadway, it is reasonably foreseeable that a large vehicle could collide with the disabled vehicles and cause additional harm.

Liability is Proportionally Assessed

Arizona previously applied what is known as “joint and several liability,” which imposed full liability (for all damages) on each of the defendants in a case, no matter how much fault they actually contributed.  This was quite useful in the multi-vehicle pileup context, as the injured plaintiff could pursue recovery against any one of the defendants on the basis of their ability to pay the damages.

These days, however, Arizona has abolished joint and several liability.  Instead, each defendant is only responsible for damages proportional to their own fault contribution.  For example, if you are injured by three vehicles, and each is 33.3 percent at-fault, then you could recover 33.3 percent of your total damages from each of those driver defendants — no more than that.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced Phoenix Truck Accident Lawyer

Hirsch & Lyon is a Phoenix-based personal injury litigation firm with extensive experience handling various motor vehicle lawsuits, including those that primarily involve car, truck, and motorcycle accidents.  We are well-equipped to help clients navigate the complexities of a multi-vehicle pileup accident, and to secure maximum available compensation in such disputes.

Ready to connect to an experienced Phoenix truck accident lawyer at Hirsch & Lyon?  Call 602-535-1900 or send us a message through our website.  Consultation is free, confidential, and no-obligation, so don’t delay.  It’s important that you secure legal assistance as soon as possible.

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