Multi-vehicle pile-ups: Who’s to blame? And who pays?

Multi-vehicle pile-ups are an all-too frequent occurrence on South Africa’s roads. But once the smoke clears and the scene is cleaned up, the question invariably arises: Who’s to blame? And will my insurance pay?

When it comes to multi-vehicle accidents, there are no straight-forward answers, says King Price Insurance’s client experience partner, Wynand van Vuuren. The more cars involved in an incident, the more difficult it is to say who caused the accident.

“In some traffic accidents, it’s clear who caused the accident, and establishing liability is relatively straightforward. But sometimes it’s not clear, even if just two vehicles are involved, so it can get really tricky when investigating multi-vehicle accidents,” says Van Vuuren.

The general rule of thumb is that any vehicle that hits the car ahead of it is liable for that collision. So, in the case of multi-car accidents, it’s possible that several vehicles can be held accountable.

For example, if car 1 brakes suddenly, and car 2 crashes into the back of it, car 2 will generally be deemed liable, because the driver should have been keeping a safe following distance to allow it to brake in time. If car 3 crashes into the back of car 2, that particular accident would be car 3’s responsibility.

“But life, and accidents, are rarely that simple. Every multi-vehicle car accident is unique, and police and insurance companies will have to do an intensive investigation into whether there was negligence, and the reasons leading to the accident,” says Van Vuuren.

The good news is that if you’re insured, and are involved in a multi-vehicle accident, your insurer will generally cover your damages and those of any third parties, depending on your level of cover.