Who is at fault in a multi-vehicle accident?

Determining who the at-fault driver is in a car accident is essential for understanding who to serve with the claim, and assessing whether a claim is going to succeed 

This 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, things become difficult when there are more than two cars.  

If one collision has caused a chain reaction, resulting in a multi-car pileup, it can be difficult determining whose insurance will 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-car pileup.

How do you determine fault in a multi-car accident? 

If there is a multi-car pileup, it is essential to determine whether your car hit the vehicle in front first, or whether you stopped in time but were pushed forwards by the car behind rear-ending you.  

If this can clearly be determined, then responsibility falls on the vehicle behind. Obviously, this is not always possible to assess in the chaos of a multi-vehicle accident. Therefore, there are additional ways you help gather evidence post-crash 

Police reports 

If the police are on the scene quickly and are giving out fines/arresting people for drink driving or running red lights, you may not be 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 car 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 
  • And importantly who the police have determined as being at fault – this person is listed as unit 1 in the report . 

Your injury compensation lawyer can then access a copy of your traffic incident 

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-car accident.  

The cam at the front will show you stopped before the vehicle in front of you, whereas 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 becoming increasingly more common, so the odds are that someone else involved in the prang will have some footage. Ultimately though, the footage is theirs and they may not be required to show it. 

It may, therefore, be best to invest in your own dash cam. 

Alternatively, 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, do your best to collect the names and details of other people involved in the collision, and any witnesses 

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 also be a valuable indicator of who is at fault. If there are any witnesses to your accident — pedestrians or people living near the crash site — see if you can grab their details and note what they saw.  

If multiple witnesses all hold the same view, it may help prove who is at fault.  

Examples of How fault is determined in a multi-car accident

It is important to remember that there are multiple unique circumstances to every accident which will determine who is at fault.  For example, if one of the drivers in the accident was 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 and so on.  


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-car 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.  

Keep in mind, the other drivers in this situation may have still been able to claim damages.  

How does insurance work in a multi-car accident? 

In Queensland, insurance for multi-car 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. 

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? 

Yes, absolutely.  

The laws around motor vehicle accident compensation are already complicated. Include the added complication of having multiple vehicles involved, and the complication factor raises exponentially.

Plus, you may be mentally and/or physically shaken up from your accident. In these moments, you should be focussing on what’s important — 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.  


Get specialised advice about your claim today, from one of our expert lawyers – totally free.

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