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Shared Fault Claims in Pennsylvania: What You Need to Know

Posted on 09/28/23

Many car accidents in Pennsylvania involve just one or two vehicles. In these cases, it’s usually not too complicated to work out who is at fault.

But what happens in a multi-car accident? Who is at fault, and how do shared fault claims in Pennsylvania work? A number of different factors come into play in these cases, making these types of accidents challenging.

For common multi-car accidents like rear-end crashes, it can be difficult to work out who’s liable. Often, there is no single perpetrator, as fault is shared between two or more parties.

If you’re wondering how shared fault claims in Pennsylvania work, know that you can claim compensation even if you are partially at fault — as long as your fault is deemed to be less than 51%.

However, it’s not easy to navigate the legal system alone, which is why it’s a good idea to enlist the help of an experienced shared fault claim attorney who can help you get the compensation you deserve.

You should also carry on reading to know more about shared fault claims in Pennsylvania and what you should do if you’re involved in a multi-vehicle accident.

‘Comparative Negligence’ Laws in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a state where “comparative negligence” laws are in place. This means that even if you share some of the fault for an accident, you may be able to claim compensation. However, it’s important to understand that the compensation you are entitled to will be reduced in proportion to the share of fault attributed to you.

You should also know what negligence means. It refers to circumstances in which a person breaches their duty of care to others.

In the case of vehicle accidents, the person or persons driving the vehicles in question may have breached their duty of care to other road users by driving dangerously or driving while drunk, for example, thus triggering the incident. This means that injured parties have the right to claim compensation when they have sustained injuries due to such negligence.

In Pennsylvania, you can claim compensation for injuries or damage against another driver — or other drivers — even if you have been found to be partially at fault. This works only if you are found to be less negligent than the person you are claiming against (the defendant).

Know also that Pennsylvania also works to a 51% comparative negligence rule, which means you must be less than 51% at fault to start a claim.

The final thing to know is that the compensation you will be awarded will be in proportion to the percentage of fault due to yourself. So, if you are deemed to be 30% at fault, you will only be able to claim 70% of the financial settlement.

Who Is Responsible in a 3-Car Accident?

A 3-car accident presents a more complicated case than a simple accident involving two cars. The insurance companies involved need to find out who is liable, and whether that’s a single person or several, in which case fault is shared.

Often, the driver at the end of a line of three cars who rear-ends a car, which goes on to do the same to the car in front, is deemed responsible. This is common when the first and second cars in the line have managed to stop safely.

However, in some cases, it’s the second car in a line of three that is the first to hit another vehicle. The third car may have become involved as a result of the actions of the driver of the second car. In this circumstance, the driver of the second car is at fault.

So, it does not necessarily follow that the driver of the third car is responsible for the accident. If another driver was driving recklessly or was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, no matter where they were in the sequence, then they may be held responsible for the crash.

In other cases, liability may be shared. For example, if two cars have been involved in a rear-end crash and a third driver collides with either or both of the stopped vehicles because they couldn’t apply their brakes in time, then the third driver may share liability.

What Is a ‘Chain Reaction’ Accident?

“Chain reaction” accidents happen when one vehicle hits another from behind (a rear-end crash), and that vehicle in turn hits the one in front, and so on. This may involve three or more vehicles in total.

Generally, the higher the speed the first vehicle is traveling and the closer the vehicles are together, the more cars end up being involved. A rear-end multi-vehicle crash could involve anywhere between three and up to 10 vehicles, complicating matters for anyone claiming compensation in this case.

Chain reaction accidents can have the same causes as any other accident, which include:

  • Driving too fast
  • Careless driving
  • Driving while distracted by a cell phone or other device
  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • A fault with the vehicle
  • Challenging road conditions

To determine fault in chain reaction accidents, you need to know which driver was responsible for the crash occurring. If more than one driver was at fault, then the proportion of liability needs to be determined, expressed as a percentage. This is usually the duty of the police officer attending the accident who will take witness statements, inspect the scene of the accident, and gather evidence to file in an accident report.

Insurance companies will also deploy their adjusters to examine accidents and decide liability. They tend to base their investigations on the police report and may also conduct their own inquiries.

Because these are complex cases, it’s advisable to appoint your own attorney to deal with shared fault claims in Pennsylvania if you’ve been involved in a chain reaction accident.

They will undertake their own investigation to determine who is at fault and how much liability they hold. Your attorney will also play a key role in ensuring that liability is not unfairly apportioned to you.

What Is ‘Joint and Several Liability?’

You may have heard of the phrase “joint and several liability” when it comes to vehicle accidents. Let’s find out what that means.

Put simply, it means that two or more people can be found liable for damages, as each is in part responsible for the accident. For example, Driver A rear-ends the car in front (Driver B) as a result of having to swerve to avoid a car parked irresponsibly, blocking the road. He may be 20% liable for not stopping in good time.

However, the person who parked the car may be deemed 80% liable for parking in a way that triggered the accident. This means that if $100,000 is to be awarded to Driver B, then $20,000 is claimed from Driver A and the remaining $80,000 from the owner of the parked vehicle.

To explain further how joint and several liability works, we need to understand the 2011 Fair Share Act. Before this act came into being, the plaintiff (the person claiming the damages) could collect their damages from any one of the defendants, no matter what percentage of liability was attributed to them. So, if Defendant A didn’t have the means to pay their share, the whole amount could be claimed from Defendant B. Defendant B would then have to claim back the extra share they paid from Defendant A.

Under the 2011 Fair Share Act, each defendant only has to pay the share of damages that relates to their proportion of liability. However, this could mean that a plaintiff may not collect the entire amount of damages due if one of the defendants is unable to pay.

There are exceptions to this rule though. If one of the defendants is 60% or more at fault, then the plaintiff can get the full amount of damages from them if the other does not have the means to pay. Your car accident attorney will be able to advise you of other exceptions to this rule and how to proceed in this case.

How ‘No-Fault’ Insurance in Pennsylvania Works

Pennsylvania is a state with “no-fault” laws, where all drivers must get a personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy. This means that their own insurance company pays out for their medical costs in the event of an accident. However, these policies have a cap, so you can only claim up to a certain level. This is known as a “limited tort” policy.

So, if you have suffered serious injuries in an accident that affect you long-term, you may encounter a financial shortfall when you claim from your own insurance provider, and your policy has a cap.

To avoid this, you can take out a “full tort” policy, allowing you to claim additional damages from a negligent driver with no cap involved. With this type of policy, you will be able to claim for the pain, suffering, or loss of function caused by your injuries.

It’s worth knowing that full tort insurance policies are more expensive than limited tort policies and are not within everyone’s economic reach.

It’s also good to understand that there are circumstances in which you can claim for non-economic damages — for example, chronic pain that is a result of the injuries you sustained in an accident, even if you only have a limited tort policy.

To identify whether you could claim in your own particular case, it’s best to consult an experienced accident attorney.

Experienced Pennsylvania Auto Accident Attorneys

If you’ve been involved in a multi-vehicle accident and don’t know which way to turn, reach out to Tyler Wilk of Wilk Law. As an experienced Philadelphia car accident lawyer, Tyler is best placed to explain where you stand when it comes to your multi-car accident and can help secure you the compensation you deserve — so get in touch today!