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You're just sitting at a stoplight and BAM, you're rear-ended. Not just that, but you get pushed into the car in front of you. Does that mean you're liable for the other car's damages? How do you figure out who is at fault for a multi-car pileup?
There are a few options, depending on the law in your state:
Traditional Negligence Liability
In any traffic accident, liability is determined by negligence. Every driver owes pedestrians, passengers, and other drivers a duty of reasonable care. If a driver fails to meet that duty and causes an accident, he or she can be held liable for damages.
In the above hypothetical, the car in the middle of the fender bending sandwich would probably not be at fault for hitting the car in front, if the driver could show he or she was at a complete stop and wouldn't have hit the car in front, had he or she not been rear-ended. But not every accident is as clear-cut, so what happens if two (or more) drivers are negligent?
Liability Under Comparative and Contributory Negligence Laws
In cases where there may have been two or more negligent parties, courts will use comparative or contributory negligence to apportion liability. States using comparative negligence laws will adjust a person's possible recovery amount according to the percentage of his or her fault in the accident. As an example, if a driver was 25 percent to blame for not using his turn signal when he was hit by someone running a red light, he can only get 75 percent of his total damages.
Other states are harsher and employ contributory negligence laws, which bar a person from recovering any damages if his or her negligence contributed to the accident. So the driver in the above example could be prohibited from getting any damages at all.
Not all state laws regarding car accident liability are the same. If you've been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you may want to contact an experienced injury attorney where you live.