On a snowy stretch of I-95 west, 75 cars, trucks and semis kept “crashing and crashing,” leaving a mangled mass of metal and debris. In total, 17 injuries have been reported, though authorities have expressed shock no one was killed.
The chain-reaction pileup was the worst officials said they’d seen in decades.
“If Hollywood wanted to create a scene, I don’t think they could have created the amount of carnage that was out here today,” said one Maine State Police lieutenant. Some 50 vehicles were towed, many reduced to nothing more than crumpled piles.
As officials focus on clean-up and the injured focus on recovery, insurance companies will soon be stepping in to sort through the tangle of claims that will surely follow. In any chain reaction crash, determining liability can be a major challenge – and that’s with just a few vehicles involved, let alone 75.
Blaming the weather or road conditions is natural. Certainly, authorities believe, it played a significant factory, particularly the slippery, wet conditions. However, the biggest problem is often that drivers travel too fast for conditions. Additionally, many drivers failed to wipe the wet snow from their brake lights, which meant it was difficult for those approaching from the rear to discern that those ahead were slowing down – until it was too late.
Authorities say there is no evidence a single vehicle was responsible for the entire collision. Often in these cases, insurers will break the large pileup into several smaller “mini-accidents” to determine liability and payout.
It’s estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that of the six million auto accidents that occur in the U.S. annually, about one-third are multi-vehicle collisions. Rarely do they reach this level, but insurance companies will often approach these situations in much the same way, regardless of how many vehicles were involved.
The process typically involves a trained accident investigator, employed by the insurance company, to respond to the scene. They will attempt to identify any potentially negligent acts, such as speeding, following too closely, distraction by cell phone, impairment by alcohol or drugs or other relevant circumstances. Often in these situations, there is more than one negligent driver.
The investigator will seek to interview witnesses, passengers and drivers, they will take photographs of the vehicles and the scene, take note of roadway conditions and review drivers’ records.
In the end, fault is usually pinned on several vehicles. If you as the driver are deemed to have shared a portion of the fault, the insurance company could seek to lessen your total payout through the principle of comparative fault. In Maine, which follows a modified comparative fault model, claims are only barred if your fault is 50 percent or more.
Keep in mind that insurance companies are not working for you in this situation. Their goal is to mitigate their own risk and reduce their overall payout. That’s why we recommend injured persons in these situations seek legal representation early on, so that your legal team can conduct their own investigation.
Insurance companies are unlikely to simply pay the policy limits upon request, even when that is the amount to which you are entitled. There is likely to be some back-and-forth negotiation between the insurance company and your attorney. Our goal as personal injury lawyers is to ensure our clients receive fair compensation for their injuries.
If you are the victim of a traffic collision in Bangor or Portland, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
‘Everything was just crashing and crashing and crashing’ as 75-car pileup injures 17 on Maine interstate, Feb. 25, 2015, By Amy Calder and Doug Harlow, Kennebec Journal
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Maine Snowmobile Injuries Mount; Feds Issue New Rule at National Parks, Feb. 22, 2015, Bangor Personal Injury Lawyer Blog