Who is at fault in a multi-vehicle accident?


Determining who is at fault in a multi-vehicle accident is essential for making a legal claim, as it will determine who to serve with the claim, and aid in assessing whether the claim is likely to succeed.

Determining fault is usually relatively straightforward in a two-car accident. Generally, the vehicle that rear-ends the other, fails to give way at an intersection, disobeys a traffic light, or otherwise breaches the road rules is at fault. However, determining who is at fault becomes more difficult when there are more than two cars – like in the case of the recent 12-vehicle accident on the pacific motorway.

If one collision has caused a chain reaction, resulting in a multi-vehicle crash, it can be difficult to determine whose insurance should pay damages.

In these situations, the assistance of a qualified motor vehicle accident lawyer can be invaluable.

To make things easier, we’ll go through the process of determining who is liable in a multi-vehicle accident.

EVIDENCE That helps to DETERMINE FAULT IN A MULTi-vehicle accident

If a multi-vehicle accident results in a pileup, it is essential to determine whether the middle car/s hit the vehicle/s in front first, or whether they stopped but were pushed forwards by car/s behind rear-ending them.

If it can clearly be determined that the car/s were pushed forward by the car behind, then all responsibility falls on the vehicle behind. Obviously, this is not always easy or possible to assess in the chaos of a multi-vehicle accident. Therefore, there are additional ways you can gather evidence post-crash.

Police reports

If the police are on the scene at the time of the accident and give out fines or arrest people for driving-related offences, this is  evidence of a party at fault. This information will then be added to a traffic incident report.

Queensland Police Traffic Incident Reports are one of the best ways for insurance companies to determine who is at fault in a multi-vehicle accident.  If you are involved in a car accident, we recommend always calling the police.

Police reports include details on:

  • Date and time of the accident
  • Location of accident
  • Description of how the accident occurred
  • Your details
  • Details of any other people and vehicle involved
  • Details of any damages to other vehicles or property
  • Any details on potential injuries
  • Additional crash features, including speed limit, number of lanes, traffic lights, hazards on the road and any additional contributing circumstances
  • The party the police have determined as being at fault – this person is listed as unit 1 in the report .

Your injury compensation lawyer can access a copy of your traffic incident to utilise for your claim.

Dash cams

Having a dash cam at the front and rear of your vehicle is a great way to protect yourself in the event of a multi-vehicle accident.

The cam at the front will show you stopped before the vehicle in front of you, and the rear-view dash cam will show the rear collision and you being pushed into the vehicle in front, helping you prove fault.

Dash cams are increasingly common, so there is a possibility that another party or witness involved in the accident will have captured footage. However, the footage capture by other drivers’ dash cams is their own property, and they may not be required to show it to insurance investigators.

Because of this, it is recommended to invest in your own dash cam if possible. This will provide you with credible evidence in the case of an accident where you aren’t at fault.

Alternatively, you can read our tips for collecting video evidence if you don’t have a dashcam.

Collect names & details

While you may be in shock immediately after a car accident, it is important to collect the names and details of other people involved in the collision and any witnesses.  This means taking photos of the other drivers’ licenses, asking for their insurance company details, and collecting their contact details.

Remember to ask if they are the registered owner of the vehicle. If not, be sure to grab the owner’s details as well.

Talk to witnesses

Witness statements can be a valuable indicator of who is at fault. If there are any witnesses to your accident such as pedestrians, other drivers, or people living near the accident site, you should always ask them if they saw the accident occur, and note their contact details.

If multiple witnesses can account for who is at fault, this is very valuable evidence in proving your claim.


It is important to remember that there are multiple unique circumstances to every accident which will determine who is at fault, particularly in a multi-vehicle accident.  For example, if one of the drivers in the accident was texting while driving or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, this will affect who is considered to be the at-fault vehicle.

In a three-car pileup, you will still be at fault if you rear-end the vehicle in front of you unless you were pushed by another car rear-ending you.

To help you get a better idea, consider the below scenarios:

Multi-vehicle accident scenario 1


James is texting on his phone as he is driving. He does not see that he is approaching a set of traffic lights on the other side of a ridge and fails to slow down. Because of this, he crashes into the back of the last vehicle in the queue, which then crashes into the rear of the car in front.


James could potentially be held liable for damages to all the cars in front of him that were damaged. Any vehicle caught in the middle that was forced into the vehicle in front are not considered to be at fault.

Multi-vehicle accident scenario 2


Nicci is sitting at a stop sign, waiting for a gap in the oncoming traffic. The driver behind her, Charlotte, does not slow down in time and rear-ends Nicci’s car. A third driver, Sam, does not see what is going on and crashes into Charlotte.


In this scenario, Charlotte is considered to be liable for creating the accident. Sam, however, is also liable, as she crashed into the vehicle in front of her because she wasn’t looking.

Multi-vehicle accident scenario 3


Michael is driving along the highway when he suddenly starts suffering from a seizure. Because he loses control of his vehicle, he crashes into the car in front. This, in turn, creates a multi-vehicle collision.


In this situation, Michael is not considered to be at fault, despite being the one who caused the accident. This is because the accident was out of his control.

However,  the other drivers in this situation may still be able to claim damages.

How does insurance work in a multi-vehicle accident?

In Queensland, insurance for multi-vehicle accidents works the same as for conventional accidents.

Compulsory Third-Party (CTP) insurance is mandatory in Queensland. If you or your family is injured in a multi-vehicle accident on Queensland’s roads due to the negligence of another driver, you will make a claim against their CTP insurer.

In other words, we all have a duty of care when driving on Queensland’s roads. If a driver does not uphold their obligation, they may be liable for damages claims.

Who is at fault in a rear-end collision in Australia?

In general, the vehicle behind will be at fault in a rear-end collision.

The only times this may not be the case are:

  • If the vehicle in front rolls back into a stationary vehicle
  • The behind vehicle is rear-ended by another vehicle, in turn pushing it into the vehicle in front
  • Other mitigating circumstances that make the accident out of the driver’s control, such as a medical emergency.

Whose insurance pays in a multi-car accident?

The insurer of any driver who is considered to be at fault in a multi-car accident will pay damages. The important thing to remember with multi-car accidents, however, is that there may be multiple at-fault drivers.

Therefore, the first step in any multi-vehicle accident is to assess the damages to your car and figure out who is at fault for causing that damage.

Is it worth getting a compensation lawyer for a multi-car accident?

It is always worth getting a lawyer to help you determine and gather evidence on who is at fault for a multi-vehicle accident, and to help you navigate the legal requirements for making a claim.

The laws around motor vehicle accident compensation are already complicated, and are made exponentially more complicated by the inclusion of multiple vehicles.

You may be mentally and/or physically impacted by your accident. In these moments, you should be focusing on what’s important — your recovery.


If you’re looking for a quality motor vehicle accident lawyer that will take the time to listen and to understand your case, look no further. We’ll get to know you as people, so we can best represent you and get the best possible outcome for your situation.

Tell us about what happened in the free case review form below. From there, one of our expert lawyers will look over the specifics of your case and let you know whether it’s in your best interests to make a damages claim.


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