How Do You Handle a Multi-Accident Case?

Sometimes the defense of a personal injury lawsuit is unique, in that it involves a plaintiff who sues for more than one accident in the same lawsuit.  We are currently defending a case in which the plaintiff’s vehicle was rear-ended in two separate automobile accidents which occurred just ten days apart, and then had a third rear-end accident about a year later.  Of course, we seek to limit our client’s exposure by proving that the “other” accident was the cause of the majority of the plaintiff’s injuries and damages.  The facts which we are considering to support our arguments include the facts of what happened in each accident, the relative speed of the vehicles, the significance of the impact(s) to the vehicle and to the plaintiff’s body, the resulting vehicle property damages, as well as the specifics of the plaintiff’s complaints of pain, and the nature of his treatment following each accident.  We will argue also that under Louisiana law, our plaintiff must prove which accident caused which of his injuries and damages.

Louisiana courts have held that if two accidents are indistinguishable because of their close proximity of time and place, then the burden is on each defendant to prove his own innocence or his own limited liability for the accident sued upon.  Probst v. Wroten, 433 So.2d 734, 743 (La.App. 5th Cir.1983), on rehearing. See Bergeron v. Thomas, 314 So.2d 418, 426 (La.App. 1st Cir.), writ refused, 318 So.2d 54 (La.1975)., 93-1402 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/7/94).  Thus, for accidents occurring in a short period of time, the plaintiff is spared of the requirement of proving which accident caused which injuries.  The case law is especially helpful to the plaintiff who is involved in a multiple-vehicle, chain-reaction, rear-end accident in which a plaintiff’s vehicle may sustain multiple impacts.  In Hess v. Sports Pub. Co., 520 So.2d 472 (La. 4th Cir. 2/10/88), writ denied 523 So.2d 1343 (La. 1988), the court recognized that “[a]pportionment of damages may be almost impossible in basically simultaneous accidents, such as chain reaction automobile collisions, where the damages sustained cannot be properly evaluated between each impact.”  Id. at 474.

Conversely, if the two or more accidents do not occur closely in time, then determination of the injury and damages from the first accident can be made and distinguished from the injury and damages resulting from the second accident; in that instance, the plaintiff has the burden of proving which injuries and damages occurred as a result of the first accident, and then which occurred as a result of the second accident.  In Jarreau v. Hirschey, 650 So.2d1189 (La. App. 1st Cir. 12/7/94), the court found that 21 days had elapsed between the two accidents, and therefore, the two accidents had not occurred closely in time.  Accordingly, the plaintiff had the burden of establishing which injuries and damages were caused from the first accident, and which injuries and damages were caused by the second accident.  While acknowledging that “…the apportionment of damages involving two accidents necessarily contains an inherent degree of arbitrariness…,” the Louisiana First Circuit nevertheless considered the testimony and facts of the case, and assessed the tortfeasor/driver for the first accident to be 80% responsible for the damages; the court assigned the tortfeasor/driver for the second accident with 20% responsibility for the plaintiff’s damages.  Id. at 1194-95.  We hope to use Jarreau to our benefit in proving that accidents which occurred 10 days apart did not occur closely in time, such that the plaintiff is required to prove which accident caused which injuries.