How California Law Determines Liability in Multi-Vehicle Accidents

On June 8, 2013 a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 10 in Pomona caused the closure of all westbound lanes. Preliminary reports show that the accident started with a speeding Toyota Scion, which rear-ended a Cadillac.  The Cadillac swerved to the right shoulder, hitting the concrete wall, while the Toyota went spinning around in the left lane, hitting a Dodge Dart. Debris from that collision then struck a Honda Civic that had stopped in the far left lane. The Toyota was sent to the left, eventually striking the left concrete wall.

How liability is determined in a California car accident case

There are two parts to any motor vehicle personal injury case brought in the state of California. The first part is the determination as to who was at fault for the accident. The second part is the evaluation of the severity of the injury suffered by the plaintiff. California law uses a system called comparative negligence to determine how the relative fault of each driver affects the amount recovered for the injury in situations where multiple parties are responsible in part for causing the accident. Under the comparative negligence system, an injured plaintiff’s damages are reduced by his/her percentage of fault.  However, the plaintiff can still recover, even if he/she is found to be more than 50% responsible for the accident.  For example, if the injured plaintiff’s damages are determined to be $100,000 and the plaintiff is found to be 60% at fault and the defendant driver is found to be 40% at fault ― the plaintiff will be awarded $40,000.

In cases where there are multiple vehicles involved and more than one defendant driver is at least partially at fault for the accident, California has a modified joint and several liability system depending on the type of damages. Each defendant will only be responsible for his/her share of non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. However, any defendant found at least 1% liable for causing the accident can be held responsible to pay for all of the injured plaintiff’s economic damages, such as medical bills and lost earnings.

Proving liability in a car accident can be complicated, especially when there are multiple vehicles involved. The insurance companies evaluate claims based on what they predict may be the ultimate outcome at trial. If you were injured in a car accident, it is important to have an experienced California car accident attorney on your side through both the claims process and, if necessary, litigation in court.

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