Multiple vehicles involved in a rear end collision
Question Details: My understanding is that the vehicle behind you has to leave a certain amount of distance from the vehicle in front "1 to 1 1/2 vehicle lengths is what I was told by CHP" or is at fault. And the person in first vehicle goes after the insurance of the the vehicle behind him and so on. Ultimately it is the person who caused the accidents fault and all insurance co. go after his. Is this not the case or does everybody just go after the guy in the rear?
They don't just go after the guy in the rear. Sometimes the guy in the rear will hit the car in front of him, and push that car into the car in front of it, and so on. However, oftentimes in a multi-car collision a car in front of the last car will hit the car in front of it before the last car hit anyone. Very often there will be a liability dispute as to which driver rearended which car first. If car B rearends car A first, and then car C rearends car B, both car B and car C may be liable for injuries sustained by the driver and passengers in car A, and there may well be an argument over whether most of the damages and injuries resulted from the first impact, or the second.
In California, we go after the vehicle which caused the accident. If there is a five car rear end chain caused by the rearmost vehicle, everybody goes after that rear vehicle. Simply being hit by another car does not give you the right to go after that car, unless that driver is at fault. The failure to leave enough space is interesting theory; however, I have not heard of a case where it's been successful.
The law regarding leaving enough distance between your car and the car stopped in front of you is a DMV safety driving rule and if you violate it, you could potentially be cited for following a vehicle too closely. That has nothing to do with who is the cause of an accident. In a car accident, the question is "what would a reasonable driver do in similar circumstances?" To assess that, you factor in everyone's distance, speed, the traffic, lighting, etc. In a multi-vehicle collision, whomever rear-ends the vehicle in front of them is at fault. If B rear-ends A, B is at fault. If B rear-ends A and then B is rear-ended by C which also causes further damage and injury to A, both B and C are at fault. However, if C rear-ends B and pushed B into A, C is mainly at fault. I use the word mainly because an argument can be made that if B would have maintained a proper distance with A, then when it was rear-ended by C, it would not have contacted A. If the damages and injuries are minor in such scenario, C will pay them and there will not be a need to make that argument. If the injuries are so significant and C does not have enough insurance to cover all the damages, A can make that argument against B and get B's insurance to pay a percentage of the damages (i.e. 10%-20%). Hope this answers your question. Joseph Farzam (310) 226-6890
Yes you must keep a safe enough distance to stop if need be. I usually go after everyone behind my client and let the chips fall where they may.