Chain reaction accidents are terrifying – and for good reason because they are extremely dangerous.
Also sometimes referred to as “pileups” or “multiple vehicle collisions,” the reason they are so treacherous is that in a blink, the entire roadway becomes essentially a giant obstacle course, and the threats to your safety are numerous. It’s this kind of confusion that often results in even more crashes. It’s not unheard of in these cases to see dozens of people injured or killed.
These cases are more complicated than other types because they usually involve:
- Multiple defendants
- Multiple insurance companies
- Victims competing against one another for a share of the limited amount of money
You may be dealing with a primary impact and other secondary impacts. The trouble here is determining exactly how many car accidents there were. Even though it all may have started with one person’s negligence, others might be negligent in their own right, causing additional crashes after the scene has been stabilized.
In the recent case of Hughes v. Farmers Auto Ins. Ass’n, the dispute considered by the Iowa Supreme Court was whether a multiple-vehicle accident (in this case, three vehicles) was in fact two accidents or just one.
The victims, seeking to maximize their bodily injury liability coverage under the $500,000 per-accident insurance policy of the at-fault driver, argued there were two crashes. The insurer, however, argued there was just one.
The lower courts sided with the insurer and unfortunately for the victims, the state high court agreed.
Here’s what happened:
A man driving a sport utility vehicle entered the highway traveling the wrong direction. Soon after entering the highway, he collided with a semi-tractor-trailer. The wrong-way driver was not wearing his seat belt and was immediately ejected from the vehicle and sustained fatal injuries. The truck driver was injured.
Seconds later, a motorcycle driver approached the scene (traveling the correct direction). It was dark so the exact situation wasn’t clear, but he did see a “blob” in the roadway, later identified as the crumpled remains of the SUV. He didn’t have enough time to stop completely, but he did lay his bike down. He too suffered serious injuries, and ultimately his left leg had to be amputated.
The two victims later pursued a personal injury lawsuit against the decedent’s estate, seeking compensation from his auto insurance company. They sought a declaratory judgment early on that there had been two crashes: One between the SUV and the semi and another between the motorcycle and the semi.
The trial court denied this request, and ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of insurer on this issue. In viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the second collision occurred within seconds of the first. Both accidents stemmed from the same act of negligence from the same driver. There was no intervening secondary cause of the second accident. Therefore, this was a single crash.
In its review, the state supreme court noted that anytime there is one proximate, uninterrupted and continuing cause that results in injuries to more than one person or damage to more than one item of property, it’s considered a single accident or occurrence within the meaning of an insurance policy.
That means both plaintiffs will have to draw from that same $500,000 pot.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Hughes v. Farmers Auto Ins. Ass’n, April 1, 2016, Iowa Supreme Court
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Study: U.S. Drivers More Distracted Than Ever, March 22, 2016, Naples Car Accident Attorney Blog