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26 Feb 2021
Jamie Gibbs Jamie Gibbs

How insurers decide liability in a multi-car accident


A red warning triangle in the foreground with a road traffic accident in the background

There are a number of factors in a multi-car pile-up. Here’s how insurers work out who’s liable. 

One of the cornerstones of car insurance claims is working out liability – who’s ‘at fault’ for an accident.

For example, if car A crashes into the back of car B, car A is usually ‘at fault’ since they should have kept a safe braking distance.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is to blame for an accident. If you’re ‘at fault’ it means that your car insurance company is paying out the cost of a claim.

But liability can sometimes be difficult to work out even in fairly straightforward circumstances.

So how does it work when there’s a pile-up involving multiple cars?


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Difficult to know who did what

When insurance companies investigate an accident involving multiple vehicles, it’s important to work out the timeline of events.

This is the tricky bit – working out who did what and when could change the whole narrative of the accident. And having multiple and potentially conflicting statements from those involved only muddles things more.

Multi-car accidents usually involve the police, who’ll make a detailed investigation report. This may help establish a proper timeline and any evidence of negligence.

Insurance companies are encouraged to look after their own

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) encourages insurance companies to cover any costs from claims made by their own customers.

Due to the unclear nature of these events, trying to recover costs from other insurance companies involved might be difficult.

This is known as insurers ‘standing their own losses’.


What happens if I need to claim after a multi-car accident?

Get in touch with your car insurance provider as you normally would.

After they investigate, they may decide to cover the costs of your claim themselves, minus your excess.

The others involved in the accident would do the same with their insurance companies.


What if I suspect it’s a crash-for-cash situation?

Crash-for-cash is where a driver will deliberately brake suddenly in front of you so that you crash into the back of them.

Given that the driver behind is usually ‘at fault’, these criminals take advantage and use it to get compensation.

This is fraud, plain and simple.

Here are some tips to help you:

  • If you think you’re a victim of a staged accident, call the police as soon as you can.

  • If you can, get an independent witness to support your account.

  • If it’s safe to do so, get as much evidence as you can e.g. photographs of both cars and their reg plates.

  • Make a note of how many people are in the other car. Sometimes fraudulent claims invent ‘phantom passengers’ to get a bigger payout.

  • Check for nearby CCTV cameras that might help support your account too.


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