Pileup Car Accidents & Insurance: Who Pays for Damages?

Usually massive ones happen only occasionally. But smaller ones do happen especially in bad weather conditions. We all sit in traffic waiting for it to be cleared off the road. Imagine a pileup involving 10s of vehicles. It would take hours to clear the road to start with. Preparing an accident report can take a long time as well and they may still fail to pinpoint the blame.

Then, it could take many weeks for auto insurance companies sort out the claims and start paying out. Sometimes, it could take years before all of them are settled and lawsuits concluded. They have to investigate the claims further to determine and perhaps lower their exposure. They can make counter claims against each other on behalf of policyholders.

Massive pileup auto accidents can involve about hundred of them and real misery on the roads. It would at least take a day to clear all out after the scene is cleared of injured people and police complete the investigation. Traffic will have to be diverted somehow away from the location of the incident.

For example, heavy fog in Texas caused a 140-car pileup on Thanksgiving Day 2012. Two people were killed and 80 injured in this particular crash. The initial collision started on the eastbound of the highway, which led to a chain of crashes on both the eastbound and westbound lanes. Sometimes, people watching the scene can themselves cause an incident like it was the case here.

Why Do Pileups Happen and Who is Responsible?

If we look at the Texas incident above; first of all there is heavy fog and secondly heavy traffic because of Thanksgiving. There you have two of the main factors; bad weather and heavy holiday traffic. Generally, truly large accidents happen in bad weather conditions. That is a lesson to take out and keep in mind.

However, it is never an excuse and you probably cannot get out of the blame. You have to take the weather into account and adjust speed and distance. In one smaller crash involving about 50 cars Florida Highway Patrol issued 20 traffic citations to drivers involved even after considering the effects of weather in the accident.

Pileups can be a result of one incident and happen in several small crashes to make one large accident scene. By the time it is all over it may be a real problem to sort it out and in most cases it is hard to pin the blame on one or few drivers. With so many vehicles all tangled up, it is difficult to find the responsible parties. It is generally a chain of events and several drivers may be responsible.

Smaller (and larger) pileups may be cause by drunk, speeding or red-light running drivers. One starts the chain of events that will involve several cars. It would usually not cause a serious concern to sort out the blame in a collision involving several automobiles. Almost always you are responsible for the damages you caused to the car in front or to the ones hit by yours. It is not an acceptable excuse that you were hit by another vehicle to start with. You have to always keep a safe distance. Even you were hit from behind you should have reacted in time to stop before hitting the vehicle in front.

The real problem in a larger accident would be to determine who hit who. An auto may be hit by several others and by the time it is over it ends up in a different location than where the initial contact started. Unless, one driver was drunk, it is difficult to single out anyone. Even one motorist was responsible for the initial crash, he/she cannot be held responsible for the actions of all the others in a 100-car pileup as mentioned above.

Auto Insurance Consequences of Pileups

Generally, nobody carries enough car insurance liability coverage to pay for even a smaller pileup with injuries and damages to many automobiles. In a large one, there could be deaths and serious injuries as well as several totaled vehicles. The overall costs could be in the several millions. Anyway, it wouldn’t be fair and technically possible to load all the blame onto one driver.

Even so, you should try to figure out who hit you and collect driver, vehicle and policy details, if it is safe to do so. Then, you should get your claim in as soon as possible to get in front of the queue, just in case third party driver doesn’t have sufficient liability coverage.  If you do, you may have a better chance of getting paid before it runs out.

However, it could take months for the investigations to be concluded by the police and companies. Most vehicle insurers would want to have their own investigations based on police report, witness statements and damages apparent on the cars. This could take a long time and you may not want to wait until third party carrier pays you.

In such cases, the best option may be to get it repaired using own Collision Coverage and get it done in a timely manner. Collision would pay for the damages even you were at fault. You will have to pay deductibles initially and hope that at fault drivers (or their carriers) pay it back. Depending on the outcome your claim may go down as no fault accident when the others are found to be at fault and your insurer is reimbursed.

It may not be straightforward as blame may be shared, not possible to determine or third parties don’t have enough liability coverage. Your insurer may have to make complex calculations and allocations and conclude their assessment. At the end, a portion of the claim may even come out of your Uninsured Motorist coverage depending on the state laws. You will have to wait and see the outcome of the subrogation works.

If you don’t have Collision Coverage you will have to wait and hope that third parties will pay you at the end. In the meantime, you may have to find money to get the automobile repaired or make alternative arrangements.

If you are at fault and don’t have sufficient liability automobile insurance, your troubles will be much worse. You will be waiting in agony to see how the claimants proceed against you and you may have to deal with lawsuits and allegations on your own. Previous two paragraphs highlight the importance of buying sufficient coverage.

You shouldn’t give up essential protections easily even it means lower premiums. If you are worried about the costs there are a few ways of finding cheap vehicle insurance policies. You should try to bring down costs by getting the discounts you deserve and shopping around for the best deal.