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Understanding Liability in Multi-Vehicle Accidents in Philadelphia

October 13, 2023

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

Navigating the aftermath of a car accident can be daunting. When multiple vehicles are involved, deciphering the tangled web of responsibility becomes even more complex.

Philadelphia's congested roads, with their mix of cars, trucks, buses, and cyclists, unfortunately, present ample opportunities for multi-vehicle collisions. In this article, the experienced team at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim sheds light on the intricacies of understanding liability in such scenarios.

The Challenge of Multiple Parties

Unlike a straightforward fender bender, multi-vehicle accidents often involve several parties—each with their version of events, each with their insurance companies, and often, each with their legal representation. With more variables, determining who was at fault becomes a more intricate process.

Pennsylvania's Choice No-Fault System

Pennsylvania operates on a "choice no-fault" system. This means that drivers can choose between "no-fault" insurance and traditional insurance when they take out a policy.

  • No-Fault Insurance: If you have this policy, after an accident, you typically turn to your insurance for compensation, regardless of who was at fault.
  • Traditional Insurance: This allows you to file a claim against the at-fault driver, potentially leading to higher compensation, especially if injuries are severe.

In multi-vehicle accidents, this choice complicates matters further. Different drivers might have different insurance policies, making the claims process multifaceted.

Determining Fault in Multi-Vehicle Accidents

While challenging, it's not impossible to discern fault in multi-car pile-ups:

  • Rear-end Collisions: In a typical rear-end chain reaction, the car that initiated the first hit is often (but not always) at fault.
  • Intersection Accidents: These accidents often result from a driver ignoring a traffic signal or sign. Responsibility usually falls on that driver.
  • Highway Pile-ups: High-speed crashes, often exacerbated by weather conditions, can lead to large pile-ups. Determining fault here might involve pinpointing drivers who were speeding, following too closely, or driving recklessly.

Shared Fault: Pennsylvania's Comparative Negligence

In many personal injury cases, determining who is at fault is not always clear-cut. Sometimes, more than one party contributes to the accident or injury. This is where Pennsylvania's Comparative Negligence law comes into play. Let's delve deeper into what this entails and its implications for personal injury claims in the state.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence is a legal principle used to determine fault and award damages in personal injury lawsuits when both parties have some degree of responsibility for the accident.

Pennsylvania's Modified Comparative Negligence Rule

Pennsylvania follows a "modified" comparative negligence rule. Here's what that means:

  • Partial Recovery: If you are partially at fault for an accident, you can still recover damages. However, the amount you receive will be reduced by your percentage of fault.
  • 51% Rule: Crucially, if you are found to be more than 50% responsible for the accident, you won't be able to recover any damages at all from the other at-fault party.

For example, if you're awarded $100,000 in damages, but you are found to be 20% at fault for the accident, your compensation would be reduced by $20,000 (20% of $100,000), allowing you to recover $80,000.

Implications for Personal Injury Claims

  • Damages Reduction: As stated, any compensation you are awarded will be reduced by your percentage of fault. This can significantly impact the final amount you receive, especially in high-value claims.
  • Insurance Claims: Pennsylvania's comparative negligence law not only affects lawsuits but also insurance claims. Insurance adjusters will consider the possibility of shared fault when evaluating claims.
  • Legal Strategy: The comparative negligence rule makes legal strategy crucial. The opposing party might attempt to shift more blame onto you to reduce their liability or prevent you from recovering any damages.

How is Fault Determined?

The determination of fault is typically based on evidence presented in the case, including:

  • Witness statements
  • Police reports
  • Photos or videos of the accident scene
  • Expert testimonies, such as accident reconstruction specialists

Both the court (in a lawsuit) and insurance companies (in a claim) will analyze this evidence to assign a percentage of fault to each party.

Steps to Take Following a Multi-Vehicle Accident

Multi-vehicle accidents can be particularly chaotic and confusing. Here's a concise guide on the steps one should take if involved in such an accident in Philadelphia:

  • Ensure Safety First: If it's safe and you're able, move out of the traffic flow to a safe spot like the shoulder or a nearby parking lot. Turn on your hazard lights.
  • Check for Injuries: Check yourself and your passengers for injuries. If anyone is injured, prioritize getting medical attention.
  • Call 911: Even if the accident seems minor, it's crucial to have the police come and document the accident. They will provide an official accident report which can be vital later on.
  • Document the Scene:
    • Photographs: Use a camera or smartphone to capture pictures of the accident scene, vehicle positions, damages, license plates, and any road conditions or traffic signs that might have played a role.
    • Witness Information: Collect names, phone numbers, and statements from witnesses if possible.
    • Driver Details: Exchange names, contact details, insurance information, and vehicle details (like make, model, and license plate number) with all involved drivers.
  • Avoid Speculating or Admitting Fault: In the heat of the moment, avoid making statements that speculate about the cause of the accident or admit fault. Stick to the facts when speaking to the police or other drivers.
  • Seek Medical Attention: Even if you feel okay immediately after the accident, it's essential to get a medical check-up. Some injuries, like whiplash, might not show symptoms immediately.
  • Notify Your Insurance Company: Inform your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible. They will provide guidance on the next steps and what information they require.
  • Consult a Lawyer: Especially in multi-vehicle accidents where determining liability can be complex, it's wise to seek legal counsel. A lawyer can help protect your rights, guide you through the claims process, and ensure you receive fair compensation.
  • Keep Records: Maintain a folder with all accident-related documents. This includes the police report, medical records, receipts of any expenses, and any correspondence with insurance companies.
  • Follow Up on Treatment: If you've sustained injuries, ensure you follow through with all recommended treatments. This not only aids your recovery but also establishes a record if you pursue compensation.
  • Stay Organized: Given the complexity of multi-vehicle accidents, it helps to maintain a diary or log. Document your recovery, any challenges faced due to the accident, missed workdays, and other relevant details.
  • Avoid Quick Settlement Offers: Insurance companies might approach with a settlement offer. Before accepting anything, consult with your attorney to ensure it's fair and covers all your damages.

Navigating the aftermath of a multi-vehicle accident in Philadelphia can be overwhelming. Yet, by following these steps and seeking professional guidance, you can ensure your rights and well-being are prioritized.

With multiple insurance companies involved, each looking out for its own interests, victims can find themselves short-changed or overwhelmed. Experienced attorneys navigate these challenging waters, ensuring:

  • Thorough investigations to determine fault.
  • Expert consultations, including accident reconstructionists, if necessary.
  • Negotiation with multiple insurance companies.
  • Representation in court, if a satisfactory settlement isn't achieved.

Contact an Experienced Multi-Vehicle Accident Lawyer at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today

Multi-vehicle accidents in Philadelphia can be complex, both in their occurrence and their aftermath. While the intertwined nature of such incidents can be daunting, understanding the nuances of liability, equipped with competent legal representation, ensures that victims have a clear path toward justice and compensation.

At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we pride ourselves on standing by accident victims, guiding them every step of the way. If you or a loved one has been involved in a multi-vehicle collision, reach out to us. Your fight for justice is our fight, too.


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