Pileup on I-10 & who’s at fault

Several years ago, I rear ended a truck in stop and go traffic on I-35 in Dallas.  It was my fault.  Six years ago, I was rear ended by a truck and it was their fault.  Usually the person who hits the person in front of them is at fault.  Unless of course the person in front does something that would not be considered an intelligent move, like the guy who changed a tire in the middle of the road on a two lane highway!  That was not the case last week!

On Thanksgiving Day last week, there was a huge pile up on I-10 near Beaumont, Texas.  2 people died and over 80 were injured in the 140 plus vehicle crash.  The chain reaction started in severe fog.  As of yet, no one has reported what started the pileup.   What is clear is that people continued to drive into the fog until they struck stopped vehicles and became a part of the pileup.  As I read about this tragedy, I began to wonder;

  • Who’s at fault?
  • What part does severe fog (or smoke, dust, rain or snowfall) play in determining fault?
  • How does one avoid becoming a part of the pileup?

Determining who’s at fault is not always easy.  Here are several considerations that help determine it.

  • Why did the first car, the one at the front of the line, stop?
    • If it was moving slow & struck by the car behind it (car #2) then the car initiating contact is at fault.
    • If the first car lost control and hit something, changed a tire in the middle of the interstate, etc. it could be found liable.

Where it begins to be tricky is what about cars 3 through the very last one?  In these cases the “Last Clear Chance” guideline comes into play.

  • This guideline is used to determine did a driver have a chance to “avoid” an accident, or “did the driver maintain a safe distance to be able to avoid additional damages.”
  • If the driver has a chance to avoid & they avoid, then there’s no problem.
  • If the driver was going too fast to avoid, or following too close to avoid, then this becomes a liability consideration.
  • If the driver avoids the accident in front of them but is then pushed into the car(s) in front of them because they were struck from behind, then they are not at fault.  The person striking them from behind and pushing them into the stopped vehicle in front of them is at fault.
  • How many impacts the person struck from behind feels may also come into play.

Would the very last vehicle be at fault for all of the cars in front of it?  Most likely, no, they would not be liable for all 139 plus vehicles in front of them.

Does the weather (fog in this case) remove or lessen the liability in this case?  No, it doesn’t lessen the liability.  In fact, if you as a driver don’t slow down and take precautionary measures, your actions could be viewed as contributing to your liability.

The most important issue is not who’s at fault but how does one avoid becoming a part of a similar tragedy?

  • Slow down:  Many of the emergency responders stated people were trying to pass them even with sirens going & lights flashing.
  • Move to right lane:  Move to the far right lane so people going faster can pass you on the left.
  • Turn your lights on:  This may help you see and it will help people behind you see you more quickly.
  • Turn on your flashers:  In low visibility, turn your flashers on so others will see you more quickly and potentially slow down too.
  • Pull over or exit:  In extreme low visibility consider taking the next exit or pulling onto the shoulder (or a little off if possible).

Lastly, be extremely careful about getting out of your vehicle.  Your chances of surviving being struck by a vehicle are much better if you’re in your vehicle than if you’re a pedestrian.

Do you have an experience or thought to share, or a question to ask?  Post it in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.  A special thank you to Scott Jergensen, our Senior Account Sales Representative at Progressive for entering into the discussion!

Evie Wise
Evie Wise


Evie Wise
Evie Wise

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