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How Car Accident Lawsuits Work When Multiple People Are Injured

Dan Brian   |  September 20, 2016   |  

Millions of multiple-vehicle collisions occur every year in the United States – and thousands in North Carolina. When one vehicle crashes into another, it can easily set off a chain-reaction accident, where one collision causes others.

Multi-vehicle accidents are more complex than two-vehicle or single-vehicle collisions in terms of determining fault and compensation for victims. If you have been in a multi-vehicle accident, you will probably be better off working with an attorney who can fully represent your interests and fight for the compensation you deserve for personal injuries and property damage.

Hiring a Lawyer to Represent Multiple Injured People

If it is clear that one driver is to blame and the others share no part in the fault for the accident, it may be tempting to unite plaintiffs under one lawyer to sue the person or company at fault (or the insurance company of the person or company at fault), but it is more complicated than it sounds. A conflict of interest could easily arise if there is a counterclaim or if any of the plaintiffs are even a tiny amount to blame for the accident, of if there are not enough assets available to pay all of the claimants.

So while it’s possible to unite plaintiffs under a single attorney, it is not recommended in most cases. If all plaintiffs in a multi-vehicle accident wish to proceed with a single lawyer, if a conflict of interest arises during the lawsuit, the lawyer may have to withdraw from representation.

Collecting Evidence and Determining Fault

When it comes to assigning fault and determining who should pay, North Carolina adheres to a rule of contributory negligence. Under the theory of contributory negligence, a plaintiff who is more than 0% at fault for the crash cannot recover compensation for their injuries and damages. In other states that use a theory of comparative negligence, the amount you are seeking in damages is reduced by the percentage to which you are determined liable for the accident, so long as your fault doesn’t exceed 50% in most states. In North Carolina, it is all or nothing when it comes to eligibility to recover compensation.

Because of the potential for very high insurance payouts in a multi-vehicle accident, insurance companies usually send accident investigators to do an independent evaluation of the crash and determine how it happened and discover who may share fault. If more than one driver is responsible for the pileup, they or their insurance companies may be obligated to pay compensation to those who weren’t at fault. Because of the often complex nature of determining fault in multi-vehicle accidents, and because of the possibility for multiple claims for compensation, insurance companies may prefer to take the case to trial.

Passenger Claims

If a passenger was injured in a car accident, and did not do anything to cause the accident, they probably have a claim against the at-fault driver – whether it was the driver of the car they rode in or the driver of another vehicle involved in the crash. This is generally a straightforward case in North Carolina, since there is little chance for contributory negligence to play a part, blocking compensation.

However, if the driver driving the car they were in is an immediate relative, which is common, the injured passenger and the at-fault driver may be insured under the same policy. In that case, the passenger may not be able to recover under the insurance policy.

Riddle & Brantley logoIn any case, an experienced North Carolina lawyer can walk you through your options if you have been in a multi-vehicle accident and are seeking compensation for your injuries. Please contact the experienced car accident attorneys at Riddle & Brantley, LLP today for a free claim analysis and advice about your legal options.