If you live or work in a large city where traffic on highways and roads can be stop-and-go during busy times, you've likely either been involved in a chain-reaction car crash or at least seen the aftermath of one. When traffic is barely moving, drivers get distracted and don't react as quickly as they should to changes in traffic flow.

What Causes Multi-Car Crashes?

Multi-car accidents often happen because one driver rear-ends the car immediately in front of him or her. That driver in turn is pushed into the car ahead, and so on. If the vehicle behind that one can't stop in time either, you've got a pile-up.

Sometimes, the situation is reversed. A driver brakes suddenly, and the driver immediately following that car can't stop in time to avoid rear-ending it. The pile-up can move down the line until someone is able to stop in time to avoid hitting anyone.

Often, the injuries in these types of crashes aren't severe. However, occupants can suffer neck and head injuries, cuts and possibly worse. If a driver swerves to avoid hitting anyone and goes into oncoming traffic or a vehicle gets pushed into a wall or divider, the results can be fatal.

How Are Fault and Liability Determined?

The first scenario discussed (where a car rear-ends someone and the chain reaction moves forward) is the most common one. The person at the end of the line who was the first to hit someone is usually determined to be completely at fault. That person then has to accept liability for damages to all vehicles and injuries to everyone involved.

In some states, however, fault (and liability) may be divided between two or more drivers in proportion to their responsibility for the crash. Perhaps one driver wasn't paying attention and slammed on the brakes suddenly, causing the driver behind him to rear-end him and setting off a chain-reaction crash. That driver may be deemed all or at least partially at fault.

The police report is a big determinant of liability. That's why it's essential to call the police to the scene. Sometimes, insurance companies for the drivers involved will negotiate among themselves to reach an optimum solution. However, they're relying on the police report.

If you disagree with the determination of fault, it's a good idea to discuss it with your insurer and ask to challenge the decision. If you don't succeed, and believe that one or more drivers bear more responsibility than they've been assigned or have not adequately compensated you for your injuries and other damages, a car accident attorney may be able to provide guidance in seeking a fair outcome.