What is a Multi-Vehicle Accident?
A multi-vehicle accident is when two or more vehicles (cars, bikes, trucks, buses, motorcycles, etc.) collide due to the negligence of one or more drivers. Such accidents are more common than you may realize. They often lead to serious personal injuries and/or death, major road or highway closures to allow for investigation or clean-up, and expensive damage to vehicles.
Determining Fault in Common Forms of Multi-Vehicle Accidents
There are several explanations why multi-vehicle accidents occur in British Columbia and two of the more common types are: chain accidents and cross-over accidents.
Chain accidents can occur under a number of circumstances. Sometimes one driver stops suddenly and the vehicles behind that driver are unable to stop in time to avoid a collision. Another common circumstance for a chain accident is when two or more vehicles have been stopped for some time and the next vehicle behind does not see the stopped vehicles in time and hits the vehicle immediately in front with enough force to push that vehicle into the vehicles in front of him or her, sometimes into an oncoming vehicle.
Typically in these chain reaction multi-vehicle accidents, the driver who initiates the collision bears the onus of establishing he or she is not at-fault for the accident, as s. 162 of the Motor Vehicle Act requires that all vehicles follow a safe distance that is far enough back from the vehicle in front that the driver could stop safely, even in an urgent situation.
Cross-over accidents are also a less common form of multi-vehicle accident. These accidents occur when a vehicle, due to driver error, road conditions, or inclement weather crosses over into oncoming traffic colliding with multiple vehicles in either direction.
The driver who crosses over the centre line is assumed to be at-fault for the accident, as s. 155 of the Motor Vehicle Act (RSBC 1996) c. 318 (the “MVA”) requires vehicles to proceed to the right of the centre line.
Liability in Unusual Multi-Vehicle Accidents
In the two main types of multi-vehicle accidents, the Motor Vehicle Act provisions mentioned above assist in determination of fault. However, the final decision on who is at fault is up to the courts to determine. Any determination of fault made by the courts is done on a case-by-case basis upon examination of the facts. Some unusual cases that went to court are outlined below.
In Lloyd v. Fox, a motorcyclist who rear-ended a car on a country road was found to be only 40 percent at-fault for the collision. What happened is that two drivers, who were proceeding in opposite directions, stopped side-by-side to have a conversation. This is not an uncommon occurrence on country roads. The motorcyclist spotted the two drivers chatting but claimed he could not brake in time to avoid the collision. Justice Drost held that the motorcyclist was 40 percent responsible for the collision due to speeding and failing to brake properly and that the two stopped drivers were 60 percent responsible due to their improper stop on the road, creating a hazard for oncoming traffic.
Another exceptional case is Ayers v. Singh. The British Columbia Court of Appeal held that the lead car in a collision was 100 percent at-fault for the motor vehicle accident. In this case, the lead car was driven by an inexperienced driver. He was proceeding straight through an intersection when he suddenly slowed dramatically as the left-turning light turned red. The vehicle behind the lead car attempted to avoid the collision by swerving to the left around the lead car, causing an accident. While the trial judge held that the ideal reaction would have been to brake, the attempt to avoid the accident by swerving was within the realm of what a reasonable driver would do under the circumstances. The British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s decision that the lead driver was 100 percent at-fault.
Complications in Multi-Vehicle Accidents
When there are multiple injured persons in a multi-vehicle accident, there can be additional complications in determining damages. Where some or all of the injured persons have severe or catastrophic injuries, the policy limits of the insurance may not be sufficient for all claims.
Justice Beton of the Supreme Court of British Columbia addressed this situation in Clark v. Bullock. In that case, there were multiple injured persons in an accident that Mr. Bullock was found at fault for and Ms. Bullock was vicariously liable for. Mr. Clark, who was one of the plaintiffs, was awarded approximately $550,000, when normally he would have to wait years to find out whether the defendant was underinsured or not. There were two children who were also severely injured as passengers in another vehicle.
Concerns were raised that the total insurance coverage could be insufficient. The defendant’s policy coverage included underinsured motorist protection of $5 million and the plaintiff’s underinsured coverage was $2 million. The guiding principle determined was that:
“Where there are multiple claims in motor vehicle accidents such as this, the entitlement to payment from the insurance coverage is on a pro rata basis.”
If the policy coverage was short, a pro rata basis of insurance coverage may be fair amongst the plaintiffs, but the amount of total compensation available may not be enough for each individual plaintiff. In situations where children are involved, whose claims may not be determined for many years.
Contact Bronson Jones & Company LLP Accident Lawyers in Vancouver
If you or a loved one has been injured in a multi-vehicle accident, then you should speak with a trusted accident lawyer in Vancouver. Many complications could be involved, including whether the plaintiffs bear any fault and if there are multiple injured persons. At Bronson Jones & Company LLP, our firm has been practicing personal injury law in Vancouver and throughout Lower Mainland, BC since 1979. Contact us to schedule your consultation. For personal injury law in Vancouver or our other locations, contact us at 1-855-852-5100. Representing vehicle accident victims – It’s all we do.