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Who is Responsible in a Multi-Car Accident

Who is Responsible in a Multi Car Accident

Car crashes with multiple cars always leaves us asking the same question: Who is Responsible in a Multi-Car Accident? The following case shows the process involved in answering this very question.

The Case

The first thing to do when answering Who is Responsible in a Multi-Car Accident is gather all of the facts. In this case, a man was driving his vehicle in New York City. He drove at a speed of approximately 15 miles per hour. As he drove, he saw a vehicle stopped about four car lengths in front of him. The man alleged that it was raining,. The vehicle skip as he pressed the brakes.. An unidentified car then struck the man’s car. That driver fled the scene of the accident.  That crash caused the man’s car to cross over into the opposite lanes of traffic. This was directly into the path of a dairy truck. The two vehicles collided.  A fourth vehicle moving in the opposite lane then struck the dairy truck in the rear.

The Lawsuit


After discovering the facts the next step is to choose which parties to sue. The injured man filed a suit against companies which owned the colliding vehicles. The suit was to recover damages for personal injuries and injury to property.  The first defendant, a dairy company, tried to dismiss the complaint. They claimed that the emergency doctrine applied. This means that is there is an emergency outside of their control, they are not at fault. The owner of the vehicle that struck the dairy truck also tried to dismiss the complaint. They said the impact from their car was not the one which caused injuries. The trial court denied all defendants’ requests. The court said that the emergency doctrine did not apply in this case. Both defendants appealed.

The Appeal – Maybe Not Who You Think


In this case, finding out Who is Responsible in a Multi-Car Accident took a higher court. On appeal, the higher court decided against the lower court. The court explained that, “under the emergency doctrine, when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance which leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration, or causes the actor to be reasonably so disturbed that the actor must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct, the actor may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context.”  The Court further added that this law does not automatically mean someone is not at fault.  They still must decide if people were reasonable.  

The Court held that a driver is not obligated to anticipate that a car driving in the opposite direction will cross over into oncoming traffic. They said that such an event is a classic emergency situation. That is why they used the emergency law. It should be noted, however, that the emergency doctrine does not always apply. If a driver is aware of the bad weather and should have accounted for them properly. 

The higher court held that the dairy company showed it was not at fault. They showed this by giving enough evidence to show that its driver was faced with an emergency situation not of his own making. The court further held that the dairy driver acted reasonably.  In opposition, plaintiff failed to submit enough evidence to raise a triable issue of fact.

The Decision…. Continued

The higher court also held that the second defendant, the owner of the vehicle that struck the dairy truck, established its entitlement to summary judgment by submitting evidence sufficient to demonstrate that its driver did not cause the plaintiff’s damages.  The Court reasoned that evidence showed that the vehicle never came into contact with the plaintiff’s vehicle, and that its contact with the dairy truck did not cause any further impact to plaintiff or his vehicle. 


Accordingly, the court is clear as to Who is Responsible in a Multi-Car Accident. The Second Department reversed the lower court’s decision. They dismissed the complaint against those defendants. If you have had the experience of being involved in a car accident similar to this one, do not hesitate to contact our law firm.