Who is At Fault for a Multi Car Accident?

Most vehicle accidents involve just two cars that collide with each other, or one car that hits another person or object. But there are some accidents that involve three or more vehicles. These accidents are sometimes called “multi car pileups” or “chain reaction accidents”, and they are usually more complicated to sort out. When one accident triggers a series of subsequent crashes, there are numerous potential factors that could be the cause and determining liability can be very difficult.

When someone is involved in a multi-car accident, it is very important to speak with a skilled and knowledgeable attorney as early as possible. Because of the complexities involved with cases like these, early action is needed to protect your legal rights and help ensure that if you suffered injuries, you are able to recover maximum compensation. Multi-vehicle crashes can trigger unique issues, such as running up against auto insurance liability limits and identifying third parties that could have played a role in the crash, and your attorney can go to work immediately to thoroughly investigate the case and explore every potential legal avenue toward obtaining a favorable outcome.

Common Reasons for Multi-Car Accidents

There are several common scenarios in which a multi-vehicle accident may occur:

  • Chain Reaction Rear-End Crashes: Perhaps the most frequent cause of a multi-car accident is a rear end crash that sets off a chain reaction of other crashes. The initial collision produces a domino effect that can involve up to a half a dozen or more cars. A chain reaction accident is most likely to happen on the highway or another road where vehicles are traveling at a higher speed. This type of accident is also fairly common during the winter when there is ice on the roads, particularly “black ice” that is hidden and catches drivers by surprise.
  • Unconscious Drivers: One of the most dangerous situations that occurs on the roadways is when a driver loses consciousness. This can happen because of drowsiness or fatigue that causes the driver to fall asleep at the wheel, or it can result from a seizure or another medical condition that triggers a blackout. An unconscious driver could crash into multiple vehicles, and this type of situation could become deadly, especially if it happens on the highway.
  • Careless/Reckless Driving: Various forms of careless or reckless driving can become the catalyst for a multi-car pileup. One common scenario is a careless lane change in which the driver does not check their blind spot and fails to notice a vehicle or motorcycle that is traveling alongside them. In other cases, a driver who is intoxicated or just inexperienced and immature might speed excessively, weave wildly in and out of lanes, tailgate the vehicle in front of them, or even attempt to evade arrest if they are being pursued by a law enforcement vehicle. All of these types of behaviors increase the likelihood of a multi-vehicle accident.
  • Semi-Truck Jackknifes: Big rig trucks have the potential to cause widespread damage if a driver loses control. An 18-wheeler could trigger a multi-vehicle accident if, for example, it jackknifes on the highway and blocks several lanes of traffic. When this happens, it would be nearly impossible for the other drivers to slow down in time to avoid colliding with the truck.

Liability for Multi-Car Accidents

Determining who was at fault for a multi-vehicle collision will always depend on the unique circumstances of each case. For example, in a rear-end chain reaction case, first driver who initiated the collision will often be looked at, but it might turn out that the driver they crashed into is at least partially responsible because they were on their phone or because they did not have functional brake lights to warn cars behind them that they were slowing down. And of course, if any of the drivers were in the process of committing a traffic violation (such as speeding, reckless driving, or drunk driving), then this driver is likely to be held liable.

If a large commercial truck initiated the crash, then there are a number of other parties that could share the blame as well. These may include the driver, the driver’s employer, the owner or lessor of the truck, the cargo/shipping company that may have overloaded or unevenly loaded the truck, or the manufacturer of a faulty vehicle or vehicle part.

Contact an Experienced West Virginia Auto Accident Lawyer

Multi-car crashes are very complex cases, and if you or someone close to you got injured in this type of accident, you need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating forcefully for your rights and interest. If the accident occurred in West Virginia, contact The Masters Law Firm for a free consultation and case assessment. To get started, message us online or call our office today at 304-342-3106 or toll free at 1-800-342-3106. We look forward to serving you!

The Impact of Social Media on a Personal Injury Case

Just about everybody uses social media these days. People go on Facebook, Instagram, or their favorite platform to check in on what their family and friends are doing, read up on the latest news, and share updates about what is going on in their lives. Since the advent of social media, users have had the ability to share in depth information about themselves to those within their network.

It is always advisable to be cautious about what you post on social media as it can be seen by hundreds of people within your network. In addition, if a post goes “viral” and is shared multiple times, or even one time, there could be thousands or even tens of thousands of eyeballs on it.

This may not be that big a deal under normal circumstances, and you may not mind if the whole world reads your posts. But when you are involved in a personal injury claim, you will need to tread much more carefully. Things you say and images and videos you post on social media can be used against you in a personal injury case, and your online activity could cause you to lose out on some or all of the compensation you deserve.

How Social Media Activity Might be Used Against You

Imagine you got seriously injured in a car accident. Your neck, shoulder, and back injuries are bad, you can barely walk for a while, and you can barely lift anything up. You claim damages for your direct monetary losses – medical bills and lost earnings – and also for noneconomic losses such as physical and emotional pain-and-suffering and loss of enjoyment. You assert that your injury has resulted in several bouts of depression, and you are feeling isolated because it is much harder to move around for extended periods and you are forced to spend most of your time at home.

Your case seems pretty strong, except for one problem – your social media posts seem to contradict your claims that you are suffering and that your quality of life has been diminished. You are pictured on vacation at the beach smiling, or having drinks with your friends. Or worse, you are shown jet skiing, riding an ATV, or participating in some other type of physical activity.

We all try to put a rosy picture of our lives on social media.  Those posts often do not represent reality. Your posts smiling at the beach may not reflect that for most of the time on your vacation, you were forced to lay on a lounge chair instead of being able to body surf the waves. That picture of you on the ATV implies that you went on a grand off road excursion, when in fact, you were only able to ride on flat ground in a parking lot or on a field for only a few minutes. The photo of you on a jet ski will not show you laid up for two days after trying something that you have always wanted to try. Those drinks with friends do not show that you left early, or that you needed to have someone drive you home because you drank one too many to try to dull the pain. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and may be all the defendants, and potentially a jury, will believe. 

In addition to all of that, you generally try to have an optimistic outlook on life, and you don’t want people to worry about you. So, you post several status updates throughout your recovery reassuring those closest to you that you are feeling better and that you’re going to get through this just fine. You end up saying you are “fine” when you are not really fine.

Do you see the problem here? Do you see how your social media activity might damage your claim? This is not just theory; there are numerous actual cases dating all the way back to the early days of the internet in which a defendant used a plaintiff’s social media activity to discredit their claim.

You cannot live your life centered around a personal injury lawsuit and secluding yourself in the house all the time, as that can be a terrible way to live. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may be able to participate in some activity after a period of time, even encouraged to do so by your doctor as part of your physical rehabilitation. Talk to your medical providers about what you should and should not be doing, and follow their advice. However, when you do activities like the above without the advice of your doctor or physical therapist, you risk the defendants arguing that the reason you are not totally better is because you were doing activities you should not, and made your injury worse or delayed your healing, called a “failure to mitigate” (i.e. lessen) your damages, which the law often requires plaintiffs to do.

The Myth that “It Won’t Happen to Me”

You might be thinking that everything we have said so far is good advice for most people, but it doesn’t apply to you because you are more careful than the rest. After all, you use the strictest privacy settings, so only your friends can see your posts.

This is a common myth that people often tell themselves, but in reality, this is a dangerous way of thinking. You might believe that you will be more cautious than others and that your privacy settings will protect you, but you must remember that insurance companies and other well-funded defendants have professional investigators who are tech savvy and have the ability to uncover online information that is not easy for most people to get a hold of.

Investigators have ways of getting into your network through friends or friends of friends or other means, and this could leave you exposed in ways you may not even realize. For example, what if one of your friends tags you in one of those vacation photos and an investigator happens to be in your friend’s network of friends, or your friend has all of his posts set to allow public viewing?

You thought you had all the angles covered, but somehow, they were able to find potentially damaging and often misleading photos of you. What’s worse is now that they have found a couple of photos, they decide use this as a basis to try to subpoena the rest of your social media posts to see what else they can uncover, including your private messages on Facebook Messenger or other platforms.

How Should I Handle Social Media During a Personal Injury Case?

Ideally, you should stop posting on social media after an injury and tell your friends and family not to post about you or your accident.  You may even want to suspend your accounts as soon possible after the accident or event that caused your injury. Without any accounts or activity, there is nothing for the other side to discover.

If you cannot unplug completely from social media, limit your activity to reading other people’s posts, never comment on anything, and ask all of your family and friends not to tag you in any of their photos, comment on any of your accounts, or post anything about you. And above everything else, listen to the advice of your attorney and follow his/her instructions closely on all relevant matters while you are in the middle of a personal injury claim. Second, be completely truthful about what you can and cannot do when you make your claims. Be truthful with your lawyer, and truthful with the defendants. People do not expect an injured person to lay in bed and never get up again. You are entitled to fair compensation for your injuries, whatever they turn out to be. Having nothing to hide is always the best offense and defense.

The Basics of Personal Injury Law

When someone gets injured because of the negligent or reckless actions of another party, they may be eligible to file a civil claim for monetary damages. This is often referred to as “personal injury” or “tort” law. Personal injury laws allow an injured party to seek compensation in order to be “made whole” for the losses that they have suffered.

Some of the most common instances in which a personal injury claim could be filed include:

  • Accidents: Most personal injury claims are filed because of accidents that occur due to someone acting in a negligent or careless manner. These may include auto accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, some workplace accidents, premises liability accidents (e.g., slips and falls), medical malpractice, nursing home negligence, wrongful death, and many others.
  • Defective or Dangerous Products: When a consumer suffers harm through regular use of a product, they may be able to file a personal injury claim under the legal theory known as “product liability”. A product liability claim can be filed against the manufacturer, distributor, other parties within the product’s supply chain.
  • Intentional Acts: Intentional harm happens when someone willfully and intentionally causes a personal injury. Examples may include fraud and other intentional acts.
  • Defamation: If someone’s false statements cause harm to another person’s reputation, they may be able to file a defamation of character lawsuit.

What Types of Damages Can I Receive from a Personal Injury Claim?

You can pursue compensatory damages for all losses you have sustained from your injury, both economic and noneconomic:

  • Economic Damages: These are direct monetary losses that the injured party suffers. Examples include hospitalization costs, doctor visits, costs for surgeries and other types of treatment, costs for ongoing medical care, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and property damage.
  • Noneconomic Damages: These are losses that are real but intangible and more difficult to assign a dollar figure. Examples include the physical and emotional pain and suffering the victim has to endure, the inability to participate in activities they once enjoyed, and the effects of having to live with a permanent injury.

In more limited cases in which the actions of the party responsible for the injury go beyond standard negligence, punitive damages may also be awarded as punishment to the wrongdoer. Punitive damages may be appropriate in cases when the responsible party acted willfully, maliciously, or with gross negligence.

How Does a Personal Injury Claim Work?

Every case is different, and there are always unique circumstances that will determine how a claim might play out. In most accident injury cases, for example, the injured person will be dealing with the at fault party’s insurer. They might choose to handle the claim alone, or they could hire a personal injury lawyer. Without a lawyer, it will be up to the injured person to work out a settlement directly with the insurance company or other representatives for the defendant.

Although an injured person may think they can save money in attorney fees by handling a claim on their own, they may often be disappointed by the settlement offer they receive. The goal of the defendants and their insurance companies is to pay out as little as possible for the claim, and without legal representation, the other side will have far less incentive to give you a reasonable offer.

When an injured person is represented by an attorney, they have a legal professional in their corner who will put together the strongest possible case on their behalf. They will also have someone to present their case to the defendant’s representatives during negotiations. And if the other side is not willing to negotiate in good faith, an experienced attorney will be ready and able to take the case to trial.

Just how big a difference does it make to have legal representation in a personal injury case?

As we mentioned earlier, every case is different, but according to a survey of the readers of Nolo, a well-known online legal directory, the average compensation for those with legal representation was $77,600, while the average compensation for those without legal representation was $17,600. In addition, 91% of those in the survey who had an attorney received a payout, while only 51% of those without an attorney received one.

Whether you are represented by an attorney or not, most of the time, personal injury cases are settled without going to trial. In the Nolo survey, just 4% of the cases went to trial, which is pretty typical. In general, it is in everyone’s best interests to settle without litigation, but when you are represented by an attorney with proven trial experience, the other side is usually more motivated to make a reasonable settlement offer because there is a credible threat that you are willing to litigate the case if they don’t.

Contact Our Seasoned West Virginia Personal Injury Attorneys

If you or someone close to you got injured because of the negligence, recklessness, or willful acts of another party, The Masters Law Firm is here to help. Message us online or call our office today at 304-342-3106 or toll free at 1-800-342-3106 for a free consultation and case assessment.

Can my Car Accident Claim be Reopened after it is Settled?

If you got injured in an auto accident, you may be thinking about whether to accept a quick settlement offer from the responsible party’s insurance company. This is understandable.

After getting hurt in an accident, finances can get pretty tight when you are out of work for a while and have medical bills to pay, and the last thing you want to deal with is a long and drawn out injury claim. So, when an insurance company approaches you with an offer to settle, it can be very tempting to accept that offer.

The problem with accepting an early offer from an insurance company is that it can be and usually is far less than what your claim is actually worth. You might not realize this at the time, but later when all of your physical symptoms have totally manifested themselves and your medical tests are completed, your doctor informs you that your injuries are considerably worse than you originally thought.

When this type of situation arises, many people wonder if it is possible to reopen their car accident claim after it has already been settled. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is generally “no”. There are some limited circumstances when a personal injury case could be reopened (more on these later), but most of the time, you cannot pursue additional compensation after you have accepted a settlement offer.

It is because of situations like these that we always recommend at least talking with an experienced personal injury lawyer before accepting any type of settlement offer from an insurance company. By consulting with an attorney, you can have your case thoroughly analyzed by an experienced professional and be advised of your legal rights and options. This way, you can make the most informed decision regarding whether or not you should take the offer.

Under what Circumstances can I Reopen a Car Accident Claim after It Has Been Settled?

If you take a settlement offer from an insurance company, you will normally be required to sign a “release of liability”, which waives your right to come after the defendant for additional damages. There are some instances, however, when it might be possible to pursue additional compensation even after you have agreed to settle a claim:

  • No Signed Agreement: You may be at the point where you have agreed to accept a car accident settlement offer, but you have not signed the paperwork yet. If this is the case, you might still be able to get out of it. That said, be aware that a verbal agreement to settle can sometimes be interpreted as legally valid, so speak with an attorney to find out what situation applies to your case.
  • Settlement Document contained Technical Errors: Maybe the document that you signed has materially significant technical errors. For example, you agree to a settlement of $53,000, but they displace a couple of the numbers and write up the agreement as $35,000. If this happened, you could have them correct the mistake, or it may be possible to back out of the agreement.
  • Defendant Failed to Perform: The defendant agrees to pay you the settlement within 10 days, but 20 days later you have not seen your check. They are now very hard to get a hold of, and when you do reach them, their answers are vague and evasive. In a situation like this, it might be possible to reopen the case because the defendant failed to perform.
  • There Are other Potential At-Fault Parties: Some car accidents involve multiple vehicles and the possibility of several parties that could be at fault. Accidents involving a commercial vehicle could also put multiple parties on the hook, such as the defendant’s employer, a cargo/shipping company, or the party responsible for maintaining the vehicle. Even in a standard two-car accident, a vehicle defect could be a contributing factor. If there are parties other than the one that you settled with that could share some responsibility for your accident, then you may be able to file a claim against them for additional damages.
  • Your Underinsured Motorist Coverage:  You may be able to make a claim against your own insurance company if the amount of insurance available from the defendant is not enough to cover all of your losses. However, if you accept a settlement from a defendant without getting consent from your own insurance carrier, or for less than the defendant’s policy limits, you may waive your right to seek underinsured coverage. This can be tricky, so it is best to contact a lawyer to help you protect your rights to seek Underinsured Motorist Coverage.

Contact Our Experienced West Virginia Car Accident Lawyers

It is not usually possible to open a car accident claim after you have already settled, but there are some limited instances when it can be done. If you are wondering whether this could apply to your case, the best place to start is to speak with a skilled and knowledgeable auto accident attorney.

In West Virginia, contact The Masters Law Firm in Charleston at 304-342-3106 or toll free at 1-800-342-3106, or message us online to schedule a free consultation.