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Who Is Liable in a Massive Car Pileup?

Posted in Car Accidents on March 8, 2019

Any driver involved in a massive car pileup, such as the recent 131-car pileup in Wisconsin, the largest in the state’s history, faces a great deal of uncertainty regarding liability. With so many vehicles involved in a single incident, cleanup can take days, investigations can last for several weeks, and drivers may wait months for their insurance claim payouts. If lawsuits arise from such an incident, the uncertainty surrounding liability can cause litigation to drag on for months or even years.

Who Pays for a Pileup Accident?

With so many vehicles involved in a single incident, determining the exact cause of the incident can be extremely challenging if not impossible. Additionally, if an investigation were to uncover a single liable party for all the other drivers’ damages, no one carries enough insurance coverage to pay for all those drivers’ losses. In many pileup accident cases, investigators ultimately decide that fault cannot be determined.

When an investigation takes too long to determine an exact cause and identify the liable party or parties behind a pileup, the affected drivers may face significant financial strains due to vehicle repair costs, medical expenses for injuries, and lost income from missed time at work. These economic burdens become worse when an investigation cannot determine a cause of the accident or if an accident places liability on multiple parties.

Insurance for Pileup Accidents

If a pileup accident occurs in a no-fault state, drivers simply file insurance claims against their own auto insurance policies. Every no-fault state requires drivers to purchase and maintain personal injury protection coverage to use after an accident. Most no-fault states only allow accident victims to take legal action if they suffer severe injuries or if their damages exceed the scope of available coverage.

In fault-based states, drivers who only carry the minimum auto insurance coverage may not have collision coverage to pay for damages to their own vehicles. Most minimum insurance requirements in fault-based states require drivers to have bodily injury liability coverage, total accident liability coverage, and property damage liability coverage in specific amounts. Drivers have the option of purchasing collision coverage, comprehensive coverage, uninsured motorist coverage, and various other types of additional coverage through most insurance carriers, but more leads to higher premiums.

Dealing With Insurance After a Pileup Accident

An insurance company will launch an investigation into a policyholder’s claim for coverage after an accident. The investigation following a pileup accident can take a very long time to reach any conclusions. All auto insurance policyholders must remember that an insurance company only owes a duty to pay for a claim under the terms of the policy, meaning the claim must be a covered event and the insurer will only pay up to the upper limits the policy allows.

For example, a multi-car pileup accident could total in the millions of dollars when you add up all the driver’s damages including medical expenses, vehicle damage, and other losses like pain and suffering and lost income. When an insurance company receives multiple claims against a policyholder for a single incident, the company will generally look for any reasons available to shift blame away from their policyholder and minimize liability for the accident.

Why You Need an Attorney

Dealing with any type of pileup accident is a stressful and frustrating ordeal, and having the right attorney in your corner can make a significant difference in your recovery. Your car accident attorney can negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf, and also launch a separate investigation into the accident and consult with expert witnesses to support your claim if necessary. An attorney may also offer guidance to help you handle your personal finances while you wait for an insurance payout.