How Far Does Liability Extend in Illinois Pile-up Accidents?

Many freeway accidents result in pile-up situations and involve more than the initial cars that started the chain reaction. A recent Federal Court of Appeals case reviewed whether the person who caused the initial accident may be held liable for a subsequent fatal rear-end car accident that recently occurred in Southern Illinois.

The accident occurred when an equipment truck driver for VH-1’s show “Rock of Love” fell asleep, crossed the center-median and caused a three-car accident. The accident was so severe that a local fire department had to close the northbound lanes for a number of hours.

Two brothers approached the traffic jam and stopped without incident. A second accident occurred when a truck driver behind them did not slow down. The truck rear-ended the brothers’ car at 55 mph, severely injuring one brother and killing the other.

Following the Illinois fatal car accident, the injured brother brought a lawsuit against each of the truck drivers. The companies that employed each driver, including VH-1 and MTV, were also brought in as defendants.

The injured brother ultimately settled with the driver who rear-ended his vehicle. The court then granted summary judgment for VH-1, MTV and the driver who caused the initial accident.

Liability Determinations

On appeal, the 7th circuit ruled that the driver who fell asleep and caused the initial accident was not liable for the later fatal collision. The court in its decision stated that to hold the first driver negligent for the later accident would open up claims of “endless liability.”

Under Illinois law, a negligence claim requires the plaintiff to prove that “the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, and that the breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.” The only disputed issue was whether the negligence of VH-1’s driver was a proximate cause of the later crash.

The court noted that the second accident occurred on a flat portion of I-57 in clear weather more than four hours after the initial accident. No other chain-reaction accidents occurred in the pile-up after the first accident. The negligence of the driver who rear-ended the brothers at 55 mph broke any causal link with the first accident. This was clear because other cars on the highway were able to properly stop short of the initial accident.

Serious motor vehicle crashes may raise many factual and legal questions. Seek the advice of an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney to ensure you receive fair compensation for injuries resulting from an auto accident.