Hughes v. Farmers Auto Ins. – Multiple-Vehicle Crashes

Anytime there are multiple vehicles that collide, it is worth exploring whether there were in fact multiple car accidents, as opposed to just one.driver

The reason has to do with the fact that most auto insurance policies set a per-crash limit. So for example, a policy may allow for up to $50,000 per injured individual and up to $100,000 per accident. That would mean if three people were seriously injured – and equally injured – each would receive less than the $50,000 per-person limit. Instead, they would receive something closer to $33,000 apiece. That $17,000 difference can be big for someone who is grappling with extensive medical bills and lost wages due to the car accident.

That’s why our accident lawyers will always consider this possibility anytime we represent a plaintiff who has been involved in a multi-vehicle crash (also sometimes referred to as a “pile-up).

An example of how courts consider these cases was seen recently in the Iowa Supreme Court case of Hughes v. Farmers Auto Ins. Ass’n.

The question for justices was whether the trial court erred in finding there had only been a single “accident” for purposes of the at-fault driver’s auto insurance policy, which granted up to $500,000 per accident.

According to court records, the driver of a sport utility vehicle was traveling the wrong direction on the highway. As a consequence of this, the driver slammed into a semi-tractor-trailer traveling in the correct direction. The force of that impact totaled the SUV and ejected the SUV driver, who suffered fatal injuries.

The driver of the semi-tractor-trailer suffered serious injuries.

Just seconds later, the operator of a motorcycle approached the crash scene. He would later testify he saw the truck and what appeared to be a “dark blob” in the middle of the road. Although he was able to lay his bike down, he could not avoid serious injury. His left leg was ultimately amputated.

Both the motorcyclist and the truck driver sought damages from the SUV driver’s insurance company. In seeking to maximize the damages they could receive, plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment from the trial court that there had been in fact two accidents, as opposed to just one.

However, the trial court denied that motion and determined that there had only been one accident. Both injured drivers appealed.

The state supreme court noted that even though it’s common to hear the term, “multiple-vehicle accident,” there are situations in which there are numerous causes, and therefore numerous accidents at issue.

However, courts in Illinois – and similarly in Florida – have held that a multiple-vehicle accident can be deemed a single “occurrence” when the collisions involve an uninterrupted chain reaction – no matter how many vehicles are involved.

Courts have stuck with this theory to find a “single accident” – even when the insurance policy didn’t expressly state, “regardless of how many vehicles were involved.”

Generally speaking, courts are going to look at whether the same negligence of the insured caused two collisions in rapid succession. If so, it’s going to be considered a “single accident.” However, if another driver’s negligence was an intervening cause or if a single driver committed separate acts of negligence that resulted in multiple collisions, then there may be more than one accident.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Hughes v. Farmers Auto Ins. Ass’n., April 1, 2016, Iowa Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Liability of Car Owners for Car Accident Injuries, April 2, 2016, Miami Car Accident Lawyer Blog